The New Good Life: Transforming Your Personal Economy

by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D., November 9, 2016

“There has never been a better time to be who you are.”

This is the conclusion I offered in a recent interview on Regina Meredith’s “Open Minds” show on GaiaTV. This is not some exhortation for higher self-esteem. It is becoming an enduring economic truth in a world that now demands resourcefulness and creativity rather than “toiling for the man.” In building a fulfilling and sustainable life, your output, your passion, and your originality connected practically to personal and community needs now matter more than your diplomas and your obedience to social formulas.

Cultural creatives now find themselves in a Learning Era with serious economic and environmental challenges demanding novel opportunities and approaches. Work options have changed and so have the social “rules” and guarantees surrounding them. As most readers have observed, there has been a tremendous historical shift away from steady solid-paying jobs. Guarantees about life-long employment and generous benefits have evaporated in a globalized economic climate. In America, not just good-paying manufacturing jobs, but professional jobs, like paralegal work, graphic design, and X-ray interpretation are being outsourced.

In fact, those students graduating with a law degree, for instance, find themselves increasingly with tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars of debt and either no job, a body-breaking 80-hour work week, or an altruistic job, insufficient to pay down the student debt. Applicants with college degrees compete for barista jobs. This is not what the upcoming generations were promised if they worked hard and followed the conventional path to financial success.

I say, “Welcome the change!”

“Are you crazy?,” you might reply. “Accept broken promises, debt, and downsizing?”

Think of it: Now that you don’t have the option to sell out to a formula for the good life, you can go about creating your own.

Trust yourself, unplug, re-create yourself

What are the foundations of the new good life? In a term: emotional intelligence. This is something very few people have been taught in home or school. We have to learn to trust our deeper intuitions, unplug from habits that no longer serve us, and develop our “divine genius,” our unique passions, talents, and skills, to offer something of value to the world.

Trust yourself—How many come-ons have you received from online college programs, “can’t miss” investment opportunities, self-help books promising a sure and easy formula for business and life success? It should be patently clear to you by now, that their success is based upon your belief in them and your willingness to pay them money. Start with believing in yourself and looking for people who believe in you, whatever your enterprise. Learn to exchange services in a community of mutual support. With my website, Citizen Zeus, I tried using internet marketing formulas, and it was a colossal failure. I have since learned to build my presence from the ground up, knowing that my real gift is to empower others to believe in and work from their non-conventional talents. I developed real products and skills, rather than hype, to meet real needs. I learned to develop my passions in direct, applied ways.

Unplug—Drastically lower your costs. Move in with friends. Avoid the quick dollar solution. Invest in yourself and your community. When you remove all the money and time you spend trying to buy the consumerist “American Dream,” you would be amazed at how much time and money you can free up to produce your own dream. Do an inventory on where you spend your time and money. You might find significant time and money are spent on mindless activity meant to fight modern anxieties or boredom. Take time to daydream about your deeper purpose and then find small ways to experiment. In my last post on Citizen Zeus I describe several important and simple ways you can unplug.

Re-create yourself—Be direct. Identify your passions. Research ways to develop your gifts. Experiment with ways to apply them. Find good people to work with. Let your dream unfold and expand along with your learning. Success is not about “hitting the jackpot” but about hitting your “sweet spot.” You don’t need to sell your tiny start-up to a corporation for a billion dollars to be a success. You can supply needed products and services, develop a regular clientele, and contribute back to the community.

To engage these approaches to the good life, each one of us needs to individually challenge instrumental thinking, the notion that if I do something expedient, but without integrity or authenticity, I can eventually succeed. “If I do this dehumanizing internship or plod through an out-of-touch college program I’ll get that ticket to do ‘what I really want.’” Look around at all the out-of-work people who did the supposedly “smart thing,” and you realize instrumental approaches do not work. The good life is an intrinsic enterprise, not an instrumental chore. In other words, the good life requires that you commit to being authentically and joyfully yourself, expanding and deepening into something fuller, rather than using yourself as an object of some distant vision of happiness that turns out to be an advertised illusion.

Portia’s Café: An applied example

My sister, Portia, started her successful gluten-free, vegan restaurant out of necessity. Before her restaurant, she had decided to trust a friend who offered her partnership in a “can’t lose” business opportunity to sell music services to Nike stores in China. This “can’t lose” turned out to be a “can’t win,” as Chinese businesses simply took the service and equipment and refused to honor the contracts. Paid psychics kept promising that this business opportunity would eventually pan out and reap large returns. They were dead wrong. Portia’s friend skipped town and left her holding the bag.

What can be learned from this besides not trusting psychics for financial advice? Have faith in your inner gifts directly applied. Once my sister’s instrumental dream failed to fund a restaurant from an investment scheme, she had to trust herself intrinsically to build the business. She relied directly on her labor of love and her community.

People pitched in with work, skills, and money, because they wanted a vegan restaurant, and they wanted her to succeed. Portia saved money by buying equipment from restaurant equipment auctions, and she started small, in order to develop a sustainable business plan. Portia’s Café was immediately profitable, and remains so, and she now also owns a small natural foods store nearby. Her café supplies a vital need in the community and serves as an educational spot for alternative health seminars.

Portia went from a “taking economy” (getting money out of an investment to fund a dream) to a “giving and sharing economy” model (attracting money through good will and a needed community service).

Five applied meditations for the new good life

What are the takeaways from this essay? What can you implement philosophically and practically to improve your engagement with life?

  • Move your mind from “standard of living” to “quality of life.” Actively recognize that happiness is not dependent upon money or possessions. It is far more strongly linked with community and experiences. Look for opportunity to swap houses for vacations, for instance. This is what I call “use value” over “thing value” in my book, Transforming Economy. Look for ways to engage life in active and applied ways that save money and deepen relationships.
  • Go from a taking mentality to a giving and sharing mentality. Economic competition is giving way to collaboration. Find ways to create networks with other people centered around sustainable and healthy values. For, instance, my sister Portia buys from local entrepreneurs who supply everything from composting services, to kombucha, to a banana-based vegan ice cream. Research shows that when you feel “blah,” doing something for others is the best cure.
  • Listen… and then say “yes.” You don’t have to quit your day job immediately to “pursue your dream.” Take the time to listen to your deeper movements of purpose, and then find a way to transform your life to fulfill that deeper purpose. A friend of mine wanted to be a psychologist while working at Verizon and was wondering how he might get them to pay for his courses. I suggested he actively propose to use these classes to help train other Verizon employees in conflict mediation, thus lessening the time and expense of callers with complaints.
  • Ask, “So what? Now what? For what?” When presented with a challenge where you feel some kind of anxiety, ask “So what?” “What does it matter if I do not know exactly where I am going? I will learn.” “Now what.” “What are the most promising possibilities to experiment with?” Finally, “For what?” “Who am I serving and what deeper purpose or value am I serving?”
  • Choose to create and produce rather than consume when possible. The fount of a good life is creation and contribution. We are moving from material to non-material goods, and creativity is perhaps the highest non-material good, accompanied by relationship and meaningful purpose. Whenever possible look to maximize this good. Instead of just reading, why not join a book discussion group? Instead of just voting, why not run for office?

We need to give ourselves, and each other, permission to break away from the trance of past social and economic patterns. This is no longer business as usual. We are in unprecedented times. In unprecedented times, you need unprecedented approaches. There has never been a greater cry for us to give of our deep talents. There has never been a better time to nurture and support these talents as communities dedicated to a rich, just, and joyful world.

[This article was first published in Conscious Connection Magazine, October 26,2016]

Ending a Taking Economy and Creating a Giving Economy: Confronting the Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) and Taking Effective Action

(by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D., September 9, 2016)

Introduction

The world can no longer afford a taking economy where “make a killing” is the motto. Together we need to create a giving and sharing economy that helps us all “make a living.” This essay will unveil the present unjust and unworkable economic system that punishes responsibility and rewards fraud. It then outlines implications for the average person and ends with new, powerful, and practical principles and visions driven by connected communities. This essay brings together many of the ideas I will be discussing in a new series on Transforming Economy on GaiaTV.

Where we are now (or “It’s pretty bad out there.”)

“So we have a lawless system. What does this mean for citizens and investors? In the near term it means that the fundamentals will not apply. Anything that maintains or augments elite wealth and increases elite options will be supported, and anything that consumes or converts common people’s wealth and labor and restricts their choices will be pursued.” – Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Transforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities

This is where we stand, but this does not have to continue. First, we need to become factually aware of “where we are now.” This allows us to take active responsibility as aware citizens without simply blaming ourselves for our personal and collective situation. In doing this we have to be courageous enough to learn about the unfair realities that surround us without capitulating to helplessness. Knowledge is power, and the next three sections will bring you into the dynamics of the present economy, empower you to avoid self-blame for problems you did not create, and alert you so you won’t be contributing to the mess. In the fourth section we will talk about proactive alternatives.

Why is it that 61% of “regular people” in the U.S. think they have not recovered from the Great Recession while the talking heads on 24-hour news shows seem to think everything is fine? The answer is simple: We now have a global two-tiered financial, ethical, and regulatory system.   The rich and politically connected do not get prosecuted for outrageous fraud, while little guys get penalized for a tax return error. Billionaires can pay zero taxes, and you pay 25-30% of your modest salary. Rather than being marched into jail, corporate executives who preside over corrupt practices walk away with hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation. There is no active accountability in the system as it stands presently.

Economic fundamentals have ceased to apply. Consequences for disastrous or corrupt upper-level financial decisions roll downward and profits are drawn upward. Wealth is concentrating into fewer and fewer hands. Private companies hog revenue and dump financial liabilities on public taxpayers. When big banks screw up in a way that should bankrupt them, taxpayers bail them out, and then these same corrupt companies reward themselves with near record bonuses. Gold and silver prices are manipulated downward to keep the U.S. dollar and stock markets inflated.

Even house prices, food, and other commodities cannot escape this mess. One middle class salary could buy a house and a car in the early 1970’s. Now couples with two middle class salaries cannot afford a house. An uproarious and sobering interview on the Daily Show exposed the Mortgage Bankers Associations “strategic default” on their own 79 million dollar mortgage for a headquarters building in Washington, D.C. They could pay the mortgage but wanted to save money and rent a cheaper building five blocks away. This did not prevent the CEO of the Association from insisting that it was a moral responsibility for the little people who can pay their mortgages to stick with the initial agreement.

How did things get this bad? There are many factors, but one fateful feature stands at the center, the Zero Interest Rate Policy (or ZIRP), a decision at the highest levels of governments and central banks, particularly the U.S., to give trillions of dollars of (interest-)free money to private banks and offload the burdens and consequences of that decision to public citizens. When money is free, especially to the worst abusers, decadence for the well-connected (and suffering for the “regular person”) are sure to follow. That is where we stand now, but this iniquity does not have to be the last word. We can empower ourselves by treating this uncomfortable truth as a doorway to inspiration, genuine choice, and effective change.

What we know

“Virtually zero percent interest rates are to long-term economic policy what junk food is to nutrition—it tastes great going down, but later come horrible results… [that] pose dangers to all of us… ZIRP [is]…how the Fed (Federal Reserve) gave the U.S. Financial Diabetes.”—Gregory Bresiger, in Craig Smith and Lowell Ponte’s article, “The Biggest Bank Heist in History!” (http://www.swissamerica.com/ZIRP.php)

How much money has ZIRP looted from responsible savers to subsidize crooked banks? Since the financial, crash of 2008 (2009-2015), the total amount of yearly U.S. dollars in personal savings accounts over the last seven years is about 5.1 trillion dollars. At the typical near-zero interest bank savings rates of 0.02% to 0.03% applied to that 5.1 trillion dollars in savings account you get only 1 to 1.5 billion total interest for all personal savings for all Americans for 7 years. (To give you a perspective DARE [Drug Abuse Resistance Education] cost over a billion dollars and actually appeared to significantly increase drug and tobacco usage among teens!

Compare this paltry 1.5 billion dollars to the 85 billion dollars Americans lost in purchasing power for money left in personal savings accounts even against the low average inflation rate of 1.7% during those years.  (Look at these charts here and here to see just how much purchasing power has declined for the average American, especially over the last three decades.)

To put the zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) in perspective, it would take a saver leaving $10,000.00 in a savings account (at .03%) over ten years just to recover one $35.00 overdraft charge. If you put one million dollars in a savings account averaging .025% compounded daily over the last seven years, your total interest would be a mere $1,752.00 or $250 a year! This is hardly enough to fund a retirement for two months much less seven years. Compare this to a 5% return compounded daily over seven years yielding $419,000.00 or $60,000.00 a year! Now you are seeing the personal true cost of the rigged economy.

ZIRP money also allows corporations, especially financial corporations, to buy up their own stocks. I call this practice “naked long buying.” It means that you buy up stocks to artificially boost stock demand and thus stock “value” with interest-free money. This creates false values and inflated prices unrelated to the productive fundamentals of the company. Because there is no effective cost to the money, a CEO can theoretically do this forever—goose the stock price by buying up a company stock, and then use the boosted stock price as collateral to borrow even more money to boost stock prices yet again.

All the while, the company’s CEO gets rewarded personally with outrageous compensation through stock options pegged to the value of the stock. Talk about conflict of interest! This “looting upward” is the opposite of “naked short selling’s” attempt to “loot downward” which depresses the price of a stock by putting in essentially false “sell” orders for stocks one does not actually own, canceling those orders, and betting separately on a “short” or price decline of the stock. This makes the naked short seller tons of money when other stockholders panic, thinking there is about to be an exodus from the stock, sell their actual stock, and lower the price of the stock for real.

The reality of lost purchasing power caused by ZIRP acts as extortion for John and Jane Q. Public to enter the stock market to keep personal financial asset values above inflation. This artificially inflates the stock market even more. This contrived demand keeps the stock market up, not fundamentals or the worth of companies. That is why we are seeing the Dow Index at 18,000 instead of 6,000.

ZIRP also helps to depress the price of gold, which usually operates as a hedge against a poor stock market.  Gold has been flat for the past four years. ZIRP depresses good-paying jobs and wages by promoting debt-financed living, which serves as a substitute for better wages. Is it any surprise the federal minimum wage has not been increased in seven years?  ZIRP depresses mortgage rates (which are now near record lows), which may seem like a good thing because it lowers monthly payments, until you realize that abnormally low mortgage rates along with tax-deductible interest hyper-inflates the sales price of homes far above the market-set rental rates of comparable homes.

People in the middle of a career may pick up extra work hours to cover income losses, but how is a Millennial or a retired person expected to survive in these conditions? They cannot currently be expected to cope without incurring further debt, which will swallow what little money they have left in earnings or savings. Currently large numbers of seniors are cannibalizing their retirement principal to get by, and Millennials are being subsidized with help from their parents. However, this strategy cannot go on forever. Principal runs out, and borrowing financial help without an opportunity for productive contribution and compensation simply drains the economy dry. As I say in my book, in the end with this system, there is no actual money. There are only IOUs.

All this is compounded and pressurized even more by the skyrocketing costs of college tuition and health care that far outstrip by many times both inflation and the consumer price index.

As I detail in my book, Transforming Economy, all this larcenous nonsense is undergirded by a complete lack of serious investigation, much less prosecution, of the crooked financial institutions who caused the financial collapse of 2008 and have since profited from laundering money for terrorists and drug cartels. Is it any wonder we have seeing growing criminal boldness like that evidenced in the recent scandal at Wells Fargo, where millions of accounts were created in the name of customers without their knowledge so the bank could charge customers fees. Yet, it looks like the head of this division of Wells Fargo will walk away with 125 million dollars in compensation rather than being held accountable.

What this means

“For any professional investor, this is the most difficult period we’ve ever experienced… You have high multiples of cash flows, low yields. I’ve never seen it in my career. It’s the most treacherous moment”—Joe Baratta, Blackstone’s global head of private equity (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-09-27/blackstone-s-baratta-says-now-is-the-most-treacherous-time-ever)

This quote above was taken from a very recent article on Bloomberg.com. In that article many investment firm executives are pinning the blame for the poor investment climate on ZIRP. Wise investment used to mean prudent saving and strategic, diversified allocation of money according to economic fundamentals. In a healthy economic system, money has to cost something (in terms of interest or some other productive equivalent like labor) or it basically has no value for investment purposes, because it cannot generate true growth.

Furthermore, cost-free money promotes spending beyond means for consumers and company executives alike. Traditionally, this irresponsibility would lead to inflation, higher interest rates, and “paying the piper,” curtailing the irresponsibility. But now, interest rates are being actively suppressed (along with responsibility) to a near-zero mark as a matter of long-term policy to keep the U.S. dollar, housing market, and stock market artificially aloft, i.e. out of the reach of up-and-coming savers, creating a stagnant condition in the movement, or “velocity,” of money.

Global central bank and government intervention, in order to save economic elites from the consequences of their poor financial decision-making and behavior, prevent the natural flows and counterbalancing that should normally occur in the various parts of the world economy. Self-correcting markets and price discovery (the process of determining the price of an asset in a marketplace through authentic interactions between buyers and sellers) have vanished. We don’t really know the financial value of anything with a dollar sign attached to it, because that value is, in essence, based in funny money.

As a result, there will be no completely safe individual investments, since economic fundamentals can no longer be relied upon in a rigged economy. It is as if some overarching authority just decided to simply change the size of an inch or a centimeter. How could you then measure your height in such a situation? How could you accurately measure how wealthy you are financially in our current rigged economic system? There no longer seems to be a rational alignment between economic cost and value. This means questioning so-called conventional wisdom and critically considering whether or not to even own property or go to college.

Here are some examples:

  • In my own life, I owned a Florida vacant lot that would normally (and did actually significantly appreciate) in value, but the property was taxed so much in just a few years to pay for a municipal road that the taxes quickly ate up the entire value of the property, and I had to unload it just to stop the bleeding. Lesson: Get rid of property that cost more in maintenance and taxes than they are worth. Don’t let sentimental attachment prevent you from liberating yourself of economic burdens, whether they be real estate properties or old furniture in a paid storage facility.
  • College tuition is eleven times more expensive over the last generation and college debt has skyrocketed and yet the wages of college grads have actually gone down over the last fifteen years. Lesson: Maybe developing a broadly educated critical and creative perspective along with specific, applied skills, apprenticeships, social entrepreneurialism are better investments than college.
  • So-called economic stalwarts like McDonald’s hamburgers and Wal-Mart are experiencing unprecedented revenue and sales losses. This does not seem to make sense since they provide low-cost (albeit low-quality) goods to consumers who now have less to spend. Lesson: Maybe the values of health and quality are gaining strength over cheap junk food and cheap Chinese goods.

What you can do about it

Okay, we have a rigged system. There is no true money. We have a perfect storm of easy money for the 1%, economic burden for the 99%, and market distortion for all 100%. What can we do about it? In such a skewed climate, the best investment you can make will be in quality of life, simplifying/decluttering/forgiving debt, and building communities of relationship and exchange. We will have to get real about where we are now and invent our way forward together.

Extending more credit-debt and adding another few trillion dollars to the national debt is not a solution.   This conventional practice to “extend (loan lengths) and pretend (that debt equals money)” does not work. In fact, kicking the can down the road only makes our collective coming-to-terms far more difficult. We need courage, compassion, and creativity. We will have to create our own community economies, ones that actually work and reward honesty, meaningful work, and collaboration.

When we have no champions, we will have to be champions for one another.

What might this look like? I will give a few examples below that I will be discussing in my GaiaTV series to be released over the next couple of months, starting today, but the more detailed opportunities are provided in the last third of my book, Transforming Economy (http://www.transformingeconomy.com/get-the-book.html) .

Transformed economic thinking and practice: Ten operating principles in the new economy (or how to have a higher quality of life through less money and better relationships)

1) Invest with integrity: If you don’t support what a company is doing don’t invest in it, no matter how much that company supposedly earns. If it gathers its earning on the backs of sweat shop workers or on the back of the environment, don’t invest in the company. If it supports new, cleaner, and more promising technologies and practices, consider investing. I chose specifically not to invest in oil at its low, even though I knew price would be rising in the future, because I do not want to support fossil fuels.

2) Consume and spend according to need and quality rather than greed and vanity: This may mean purchasing less but buying something that lasts longer. Refuse to be drawn into the manic extortion myth that we all must consume more or our economy will collapse. Our economy will adapt in the direction of our purchases.

3) Know your purchases have power: This principle is well explained in this short video by actor Woody Harrelson. Changes in purchasing force changes in market. A rise in the concern and demand over healthy eating has forced McDonald’s to offer more salads, Wal-Mart to offer organics, and big companies like Kraft foods to buy up smaller organic companies because they are losing market share.

4) Explore the possibility and beauty of house sharing: Single-family residences are becoming a thing of the past because of their cost and environmental impact. Think about it: Families living together can have brothers and sisters for their children even if a particular couple only has one child. Families living together can share food preparation, saving in time and cost. Families living together can share childcare, freeing up adult time to do other things.

5) Time banking: Time banking is a great way to respect the talents and contributions of others on an equal basis. In this system people trade skills, no matter how basic or refined, one hour matched to one hour. Gardening skills, graphic design, information technology, karate instruction all become, in essence, exchangeable currency on the common unit of time. This not only allows jobs to be taken care of without actual cash changing hands, but it builds community and respect for the talents of others.

6) Local currency (money printed and kept in a community for exchange of local goods and services), open-source alternative currency, and electronic currencies (like Bitcoin, etc.): These allow for grass-roots influence over monetary policy. You won’t simply have some technocrats devaluing the currency or raising or lowering interest rates on local currencies, for instance. These alternative currencies and the practices associated are so potentially powerful because they are voluntary, and dedicated to relationship and contribution and not simply individual extraction. They are run on a very different practical value system.

7) Debt forgiveness: Sometimes the simplest and most direct actions create a space of people to start a new life. When a person simply cannot pay a debt, oftentimes due to illness or divorce or a loss of a job, it does not make sense to force them into an even worse situation by piling up fees and interest on money that they owe. It actually helps everyone if debtors’ talents can be freed up from simply servicing debt. A simple way to start with this on an individual level is to retire debt owed within a family, with the expressed blessing that such a reprieve will pay itself forward in volunteer work and ability to pursue one’s passions.

8) Gifting each other tax-free money, goods, and services: Few people take advantage of the fact that the U.S. government allows Americans to gift any individual person (without limit to the numbers of people) up to 14,000 dollars per year without having to report it. The Internal Revenue Service does say that you have to value your services when given to another person, but who is going to exceed 14,000 dollars of services? We can be legal, and still generous, without getting tangled up in a bureaucratic mess. This principle extends to swap meets, tool lending libraries, and so forth. By enhancing direct face-to-face economic exchange through cultural exchange in MeetUps, library talks, and community strategy sessions, we are re-humanizing the economic system and taking back our power.

9) Voluntary simplicity: Self-chosen low income, tiny homes, and urban gardening: “Less is more.”  “Small is beautiful.”  The virtues of voluntary “downshifting” and sustainable living create their own, largely non-material, quality of life rewards. Less space can mean greater intimacy. If you don’t want to support a bloated military with your tax dollars, instead of being thrown into jail for tax dodging, why not make less than the personal exemption on your taxes, while making up the difference with community-oriented exchange of tax-free gift money and services? Simplicity psychically de-clutters the mind and the person does not have to worry so much about maintaining or losing material goods.

10) Refuse. Refuse.  Refuse.  “Unplug” from unethical businesses: What could be more revolutionary than for Wal-Mart executives to wake up one day and realize that no one is coming to their stores? What would happen if consumers made demands en masse that a store must pay a living wage or they simply will not shop there? We do have the power to organize around pro-social choices to force change in a non-violent way with our refusal to participate in unjust practices. If we are to be “we the people” and our government is to be a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” then we have to learn to assert our authority and responsibility in meaningful, impactful ways.

Transforming for Real: Ten New Rules for Effective Change

(by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D., October 9, 2013)

In the introductory chapter to my new book, Transforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities, I made this important distinction:

“We have been taught… to understand change as something that happens to us, as something beyond our control… But what if change is something that happens from us, something we choose, initiate, and develop?  What if refusing to initiate and participate in constructive, personal and collaborative change is tantamount to signing a death warrant for future generations?” (Yiamouyiannis, Transforming Economy, pg. 1)

Change has gained an undeserved scary reputation.  In the predict-and-control obsessions of late industrialism, avoiding change has been characterized as desirable, as “common sense.”  Perhaps this is why the craft of proactive, conscious change is so poorly developed. People have been taught that change is brutal, and that change-making is only necessary when crisis levels hit.

Rule #1 of effective change:  Accept and choose a constant reality of change. 

Change cannot be avoided.  Our only real options are to initiate and change consciously (transform and participate in change) or be changed unconsciously (become an object, an effect of change).  Change is inescapable.  Everyone knows this deep inside, yet many still avoid conscious change and let change happen to them as if it were fate.

We do not have to allow this unhealthy aversion to operate as law.  Yes, change is a hearty challenge to the illusion of permanence that so many of us fight to preserve.  “Maintaining the status quo” takes on many forms: individual labels and stereotypes, racial and religious dogmas, social and political privilege, and economic inequality to name a few. And this is the good stuff we are fighting against change to save?  Let’s instead embrace change, identify what we need to change, and strive for positive change.

Rule #2 of effective change: Stability can co-exist with even dramatic change.

Genuine stability means channeling change into constructive forms.  This is not achieved by attempting to “slay” change as a threat to stability.  Change is not a dragon, but a dance partner.  Conscious, applied change actually aids stability by creating an avenue to systematically integrate new information with existing knowledge.  As humans, we either grow in wisdom and address our mistakes or die from our persistent idiocies.

Deluded notions of stability rest upon the fictional pursuit of a permanent formula or final solution. These delusions have created some of the greatest evils ever perpetrated: mass genocide, exploitation, and abuse. Change is not an enemy. Our own resistance to growth, awareness, and maturity is the opponent.

Rule #3 of effective change: Progressives, creatives, and marginalized people are best qualified to lead change.  That’s what they do for a living. 

Those with greater creative or adaptive skill are most qualified to enact effective change.  Progressives, independents, women, youth, techno geeks, gay people, minorities, public intellectuals, artists, cultural creatives, entrepreneurs, spiritualists, healers, community workers, vagabonds, free lancers, etc. are more likely to be qualified simply because they have more robust experience with forward-moving change.

Effective change has a different job description.  It’s not those that “fit in,” but those who don’t fit in, that have a better chance to succeed. These outliers tend to be those who successfully embrace the power of transformation in their work and home lives, or who have learned to adapt to and negotiate frequent change. With rare exceptions, the socially privileged are the worst qualified to lead change for the opposite reason. They tend to have greater interest and experience in keeping things the way they are. How can you move that mountain, if you are sitting on top of it?

This is why institutional so-called reform is such a popular replacement for genuine transformation. You can pretend to change by making a few minor adjustments around the edges while keeping the Titanic going straight toward that iceberg.  “Hey, ho, men. Stiff upper lip, wot!”

Rule #4 of effective change:  In revolutionary moments in history, reform is not sufficient.  Transformation is required.

Off the top of your head, can you name one effective, long-lasting reform that actually did all it was claiming to do?  I bet you’ll struggle to recall a single one.  Even successful reforms are often pale reflections of their original missions.  Why?  They are still operating within the same framework that gave rise to the problem.

I see this constantly in educational reform:  “Let’s give the inner city kids the kind of elite schooling they ‘deserve’ so they too can individually attain the upper middle class American Dream of owning five-bedroom environmentally unsustainable houses in the suburbs.”  These kids aren’t being schooled to go back to their communities and set up alternatives, or taught to link up with other citizens and collaboratively problem-solve comprehensive environmental, political, social, and economic challenges.  They are taught to take advantage of the current system, to take their slice of the pie, not to change the pie (and we need to change the pie).

Rule #5 of effective change: Conservatives and liberals can both assist effective change, depending upon how they contribute.  

Conservatives can be important supporters of effective change.  Effective change requires the best of the past to support an improved future.  True conservatives, those attempting to keep alive the best lessons, tools, and values of the past— practices, traditions, institutional memory, cultural literacy, classical virtues— are allies in effective change if those resources are put at the service of stronger advancement, understanding, and social growth. It is when those resources are used to reinforce bigotry, elitism, or a mindless and meritless status quo that they become foes of enlightened and effective change.

Liberals and liberal institutions can also support growth by providing social safety support through transitions—health care, education, jobs programs, food, shelter, and clothing.  This does not mean a “guaranteed” comfortable life.  Entitlements that insulate people from responsible participation in effective change are counterproductive. Both history’s challenges and benefits need to be constantly shared.  Young people, for instance, should not shoulder the reckless expectations and spending of older generations.

Rule #6 of effective change: Internal change is where you start.  It’s not “them” or “that” but I who must take initial responsibility.

We have been cooked by our society to externalize change.  It is time we individually own that.  It doesn’t matter what your political or cultural orientation is, or what labels might be used to describe you, you and I have been taught to “work change out” on something or someone else.  That way, “if it goes wrong” it blows up on their watch.

Do you have a risky project? Make your underling take the fall if it goes bust. That’s the game we’ve been taught.  Externalize the liabilities of change and internalize the rewards.  This social disease has reached grotesque proportions in our corrupted banking system, which continues to reap insane profits after trashing the world economy, escaping prosecution and investigation for massive fraud, and gouging citizens for trillions of dollars in bailout money.

Time to turn this dynamic on its head and insist that responsibility (not blame, mind you) starts with us. I may not have created the problem, but I’m going to be one of those who steps up to solve the problem.  I cannot do that until I clean up my habit of placing responsibility elsewhere.  Instead of protesting corruption, I will move decisively to disrupt corruption through organized actions that move energy and resources away from offenders.  “Move your money” was just the start.  There are many other ways.

Rule #7 of effective change: Move from reaction to proaction.

It’s time we move from “Hell no” to “Heck yes”.  Standing up for principles in protest can help others know they are not alone in their outrage, but this is only the start. Protest alone does not produce anything.  Its purpose is to ignite our ability to productively stand up, create, and apply real change beyond discontent.

Symbolic encouragements to change, in general, don’t work.  How can you effectively use satire, or shaming, or other indirect methods when you are attempting to influence those with no shame, little rationality, and zero sense of justice?  Concrete consequences, enforcement, and direct action create impact.  This takes two forms: 1) withdrawing participation from harmful institutions, and 2) creating healthy alternatives.

Direct, persistent involvement, not simple intention, generates results.  Let those who oppose positive change know that you will out-organize and outlast them.

Rule #8 of effective change: Individual lifestyle adjustments won’t do the job.  Powerful collaboration is required for significant transformation.

Who among you thinks that changing your incandescent bulbs to fluorescent bulbs is going to solve global warming?  Will it help to decrease energy use?  Sure, but such lifestyle adjustments only buy us time.  With adjustments we may reduce our usage rate but still continue to increase our overall consumption.  Systemic changes, the kind that can reverse our destruction and produce needed innovation, are a collaborative enterprise.

We need to move substantively and centrally from a material basis of well-being to a non-material basis of well-being in our individual and collective lives.  Bhutan, for instance, has built its national purpose around maximizing “gross national happiness” not gross national product.  The intentional community of Auroville in India is built around “peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities.”

Rule #9 of effective change:  Top-down, imposed transformation doesn’t work.  Ultimately we generate non-violent, creative, grass-roots change or we all fail.

Look over the past century.  Where has all the effective, lasting, healthy change come from?  From, non-violent, spiritually-guided, grass-roots, civil movements:  Martin Luther King and the civil rights movements, Gandhi and movements for Indian sovereignty, Cesar Chavez and migrant workers.  The list goes on.  You will notice in each the combination of non-violent resistance and inspired, courageous alternatives.

What has happened every time we introduce top-down “democracy” (read capitalism) at the point of a gun?  Failure, nearly every time.  When are we going to learn? When people are treated like objects, as the brunt of some effort to use them and take from them, their own dignity requires that they resist this exploitative “change.”

When people are empowered to share in a higher human cause, when they participate in creating and experiencing changes, they can rise in dignity and unity to support positive change. Incentives or mere laws may change certain behaviors, but they don’t win hearts and minds.  Respect is what wins hearts and minds.

Rule #10 of effective change: Embracing what you most avoid is the secret to real change.

There is nothing more powerful to the acceleration of positive change than a concerned citizen who takes a leap of faith to tackle something they know little about.  They were “minding their own business,” saw a need, and moved to act, even when they didn’t really know exactly what to do.  They learned, teamed up with others, and before you knew it they “Saved the Bay” or founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving or “took on the medical establishment” and helped develop a successful scientific treatment for a rare nerve disease.

They didn’t have expertise.  They had deep conviction and desire around positive change, and an “irrational” certainty that helped them overcome both their fear and lack of knowledge.  They spoke up, crossed boundaries, formed unorthodox alliances, and struck a chord of deep human commonality to shift possibilities.

Like many, I used to let my ideas roam freely but confined my voice to the background.  Then, I personally challenged myself to start a website (Citizen Zeus), embrace social media technology, author and publish a book, Transforming Economy, and learn to market and sell.  These were very uncomfortable for me, but I awkwardly welcomed them, and I learned I could not only do them but improve them over time.

Conclusion:

Empowerment is the craft of positive, effective change— a movement that grows within you until it radiates outside you and catches on with others.  There is no greater empowerment than meeting an ignorance, insecurity, or weakness and turning it into a strength. What was once impossible is now being done.

Vital transformation involves “softening and leaning into the point,” as Buddhists say, and choosing proactive, conscious change in the face of daunting challenges.  It requires turning inside-out old premises and promises of the good life to yield new practices, possibilities, and realities in the world.

With all our pressing problems we are in a time of unprecedented opportunity and need for change.  Our resistance to change has produced greater problems than change itself.

We have nothing left to do but open up, activate wise, courageous change… and see what can happen.

Please share.  What is your change story from insecure foot-dragger to “heck, yes” change-maker?  

Introductory Chapter to My New Book Transforming Economy

Introduction:  We are the Change We Wish to See

This essay is a call to citizens to put real work, ingenuity, and community above false promises and failed authority. Empowerment, in this essay about equipping citizens to transform and take control of the global economy; it is not about pumping up their self-esteem or misleading them with unsustainable “solutions”.  When political and economic leaders fail to act effectively, we will have to be the ones to succeed. This is the introductory chapter to my newly released book, Transforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities.

Why do we resist change?  Even when our very lives depend upon it, we find ourselves refusing to absorb the full truth of our present human situation.  Is it too much for us? Do we really understand what change can be?

Here is what I believe is going on:  We have been taught, often with ulterior motives, to understand change as something that happens to us, as something beyond our control.  In this framework, you and I logically avoid change.  If we can’t do anything about change, why waste our time?

But what if change is something that happens from us, something we choose, initiate, and develop?  What if refusing to initiate and participate in constructive, personal and collaborative change is tantamount to signing a death warrant for future generations?

We live in just such an unprecedented time, where our past decisions now threaten the very life of the planet we live on— global warming, polluted rivers, unsustainable economies, bought and paid-for politicians, obsolete education have consolidated into an undeniable reality:  Things cannot go on as before.  We know we will change.

The only issues are whether change will be done to us or proceed from us. We can be swept up by change as with a raging flood, or we can choose change and “learn to transform.”

This book and its associated website, Citizen Zeus (http://citizenzeus.com), operate on a premise of democratic, creative change, that we can learn the craft of conscious transformation in order to meet the exciting and daunting challenges of our times.

In order to do this effectively this book will help you:

  • Awaken to the present condition.  Understand what is going on economically.
  • Unleash possibilities for the future.  Discuss how to move forward.
  • Connect to a growing, healthy body of change, and understand why.

We humans are built for change.  We may be the most adaptable organisms on the planet.  It’s time we embrace, rather than resist, our greatest ability.

Reading and using this book with an eye toward transformation

This book shares new thinking and practices to transform obsolete economic commitments and beliefs. The writing is meant to be compelling, informative, and interesting, but even more it intends to help you apply new economic understanding to how you make family and community choices and how you live our individual life.

It is more important for me, as an author and activist, for you to maximize your use of the book and your time, so I will lay out a map and leave it up to you to pick the materials that will allow you to get the most out of this book.

Transforming Economy is divided up into three basic parts, “Corrupted Capitalism,” “Transforming Economy,” and “Connected Communities.”  If you are deeply interested in economic intrigue, I suggest you start at the beginning. If you are more interested in what is going on now so you can manage your choices and investments, you may want to start in the second section. If you are a person interested in future change and your time is limited, feel free to skip to Part III.  Part III has a good summary and review of previous parts, and it goes right to the “juice” of what alternatives we can pursue on a personal, community, and international level.

My hope is that, no matter where you start, you will find a reason to come back and delve further into the book and the troubled but fascinating system it describes.

We can have a bright future if we get real with the current nature of our economic system, if we make sound, courageous choices, and if we invent our way forward.

  1. Corrupted Capitalism:  Learning from the Past— This is a no-holds-barred exposé of the rampant, unapologetic fraud of our global financial system. This section gives notions like “debts are assets” an analytical thrashing.  It is a readable, but sometimes detailed, examination of the “way things work now” as the culmination of a series of ill-fated past choices.  It explores the irrationality of our present system, but also offers practical policy directions to help mitigate the effects of that irrationality, and it points to a way out of our present predicament.  If you are more interested in the policy alternatives, and less in the current economic specifics please feel free to skim over the more detailed explanation and spend more time with the personal and policy alternatives at the end of each chapter.

Chapter 1: Imaginary Worth, Empire of Debt: How Modern Finance Created Its Own Downfall.

Chapter 2: Unhinged: When Concrete Reality No Longer Matters to the Market (and What to Do About It)

Chapter 3: Fighting and Winning When The Market has Cancer:  How Unregulated Profit Cannibalizes the Economic Body and How Democratic Citizens Can Effectively Respond

  1. Transforming Economy:  Understanding the Present Challenges and Opportunities— This is the fulcrum section of the book.  This section describes where we are now, caught as we are in that uncomfortable place between old economic momentum and new realities.  In this transition, knowledge is power, if we can emotionally face what knowledge reveals. What is happening socially and economically?  What are the effects and investment implications likely to be?  How will the current trends play out?  This middle stage can look depressing, so it requires a certain degree of tough-mindedness.  Fraud has spread, created real suffering, and appears to have the upper hand, but, as I describe, fraud will break down amid the reality of math and the choices of world citizens to resist, withdraw support, and organize proactively.

Chapter 4: The Big Squeeze: Predicting the Effects of Savings Extortion and Abuse of the Middle Class

Chapter 5: Endgame: When Debt is Fraud, Debt Forgiveness is the Last and Only Remedy

Chapter 6:  Money from Nothing: A Primer on Fake Wealth Creation and its Implications

Chapter 7: The First Dominoes: Greece, Reality, and Cascading Default

  1. Connected Communities:  Embracing the Future of Democratic Capitalism— This section addresses the strong, pragmatic, and hopeful alternatives to our present system.  The most important quotes and elements of the previous sections are combined with a discussion of emerging technological and social innovation in order to create a new way forward.  This section is how the story can turn out if we apply human creativity, integrity, and productivity.  This is how the story can turn out if we respect, develop, and link each other’s deeper contributions.

Chapter 8:  Making a Living vs. Making a Killing: Creating a Healthy Democratic Foundation for Economies

Chapter 9: Unleashing the Future: Advancing Prosperity Through Debt Forgiveness

Chapter 10: “I Give A Damn”: A Capitalist Manifesto for the Productive Class

Chapter 11: Youth of the World Unite!: How Younger Generations Can Lead the Way To a New Frontier

The greatest mistake

“The dollar is something like an inch (not wealth but a measure of wealth)… People think money has to come from somewhere like hydroelectric power or lumber or iron, and it doesn’t.  Money is something we invent.” – Alan Watts (http://karmajello.com/universe/knowledge/alan-watts-money-nonsense.html )

Perhaps the greatest human error we make is mistaking measurement of value (i.e. money) for value itself. Almost every economic sin, every fraud, can be traced to this critical point.  Measurement can be invented out of thin air, but value must be produced either by blood, sweat, and tears or by some other means.

Money has no inherent value.  It is a measurement of value.  If money does not represent substantial value, it is worthless.  Our current global monetary system is a “fiat” system, where measurement-money, backed by nothing is applied to things, i.e. debt, that are simply more valueless measurement.  There is no “there” there.

In the big picture, money’s real asset power lies in its ability to facilitate exchange and circulation of human effort, productivity, and creativity.  A mere printed dollar has no real asset value.

Empty money +greed = corrupted economy

Our tough choices now mean that we are coming to terms with our worship of empty money, which cannibalizes value rather than adds value and which enables exploitation rather than production.

If we allow this to go on, if we continue worshipping money without value, we will possess no value.  We will have surrendered ourselves to a phantom.  Combine this with rampant greed and you have a corrupted economy.  Greed, as I define it, is worship of valueless money combined with a desire for wealth without effort.

When the Bible says, “The love of money (greed) is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10), it is not making primarily a moral statement.  It is making a practical statement.  Our own economic system has proven the disastrous working consequences of greed, especially when combined with the effort to make mere measurement-money equate with value.

The only thing that keeps an economy afloat is the value and effort we bring to it.  If everyone in the economy starts to simply extract from the earth and exploit the efforts of others through empty money, economy hollows out and collapses.

No amount of reform will help a system that rewards taking (squandering wealth) over giving (creating wealth).  Such a system is fundamentally unsustainable.  It will go bankrupt, despite all efforts to “extend and pretend.”  Transformation is required.

Let’s look at some examples of corrupted, “taking” economy:

  • High-frequency traders have used high-powered computers to shift huge amounts of ones and zeroes in microseconds, guaranteeing a profit, and skewing the market.
  • The huge private mortgage system, MERS, has claimed the right to digitize ownership of real estate and allow itself to be used to transfer titles without filing legally required and authorized paperwork.  As a result, clear ownership and title chains have been cast into doubt.
  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the supposed lifeblood of the nation, is calculated by total spending (a form of taking).  There is no distinction between healthy and unhealthy spending.  Forms of giving, like donating and responsible saving either do not figure into GDP calculations or suppress level of GDP.
  • Most current definitions of “standard of living” (higher material spending and use) are equated with “quality of life,” ignoring environmental limits and research showing happiness does not correlate with material wealth.
  • Solutions offered by both liberal and conservative economists emphasize increased consumer spending and jobs. Neither party acknowledges the irreversible disappearance of jobs due to outsourcing, automation, and productivity increase, nor admits the environmental lunacy of increasing consumption.
  • Government programs for older generations like Medicare and Social Security have far outstripped the ability of younger generations to pay for them.  Under current trends, older participants will receive more in benefits than they paid in.  The difference is simply being made up in borrowing.
  • Private banks are being rewarded with taxpayer bailouts for spectacular failure, for taking down the global financial system, and for being “too big to fail.”

“Conventional wisdom” does not have the answers.  This book will challenge these delusions and provide workable alternatives.

Applied effort in community + real value = transformed economy

I take no classic political side.  Liberal welfare states and neo-conservative privatized state policies are both obsolete.  They both operate by taking more than they give.

My orientation is one of community, where 1) people and organizations learn to prefer and derive greater fulfillment from giving, producing, and sharing and 2) greed is considered warped behavior.  These communities, if linked and strong, can band together to coordinate resistance to corrupt larger-level practices and develop alternatives.

Why community?  Community is where people can actually see and feel the worth of their applied effort, and thus feel drawn to give.  Community is where real value is produced, exchanged, and felt.  Community is also small enough to develop respectful intimacy, communication, and collaboration with neighbors.

“Connected communities” are those that develop internal opportunities for individual achievement and shared success and external opportunities for collaboration with other communities over larger-level issues.  The “individual” is too disconnected by him or herself without community, and “society” is too abstract without community.

So how does “community” help people learn to give, solve the “taking” problems identified above, and promote contributing and developing? (These will be elaborated further in this book).  By…

  • Encouraging community cooperative exchanges, like farmer’s markets and tool libraries, which support more effective and efficient ways to share know-how and available social resources.
  • Developing circle lending and crowd funding, which help cut out middlemen, by allowing people to pool their money to directly fund everything from home purchases to worthy creative projects.
  • Expanding the notion of “profit” beyond finance to include people and planet. What are the best relationships between finance, community, and environment to maximize overall quality of life and prioritize human worth over net worth? This is reinforced by a notion of “optimum” life profit rather than “maximum” financial profit.
  • Recognizing non-material assets (creativity, community, entrepreneurialism, etc.) over material assets as the primary driver of quality of life.  Connected economy under this principle would seek to provide people with material opportunities and resources to maximize their non-material well-being.
  • Increasing sharing and decreasing consumption.  Car share, bike share, and cooperative living arrangements are just some of the ways people are realizing that they not only can save money, maintenance costs, time, and hassle, but can expand available opportunity to leave the “rat race” and pursue deeper talents.
  • Linking and meeting human needs directly, rather than waiting for some private or governmental agency.  Many emerging needs can be solved just by connecting them.  For instance if unemployed youth assisted in elder care and were compensated in food about to go past its due date, we could solve three problems in one stroke: need for care, need for work, and need to reduce waste.  There are many other examples.
  • Emphasizing local and small business over huge unaccountable corporations.  If you have to look someone in the face day after day, you are much less likely to try to exploit them.  Local labors of love require hard work, relationship-building, and ingenuity.  Benefits directly reach people, provide work, and build good will.

Basically connected communities are about embracing the power of choice and exchange to co-create our lives.

The future is connected and collaborative

Armageddon talk will get us nowhere:  “It’s beyond repair.  What is there to learn?  It just needs to be torn down!” “We’re screwed.  The world is toast.  Grab what you can, and protect yourself and your family.  Buy guns, buy silver, buy gold, stock up on canned goods…”

Then what?

Like it or not, we are bound to each other in an unprecedented way.  There are no long-lasting purely individual solutions.  Lasting solutions from here on out are inextricably collaborative solutions.   Should you prudently protect yourself from abuse?  Yes, by all means.  However, this is only part of the equation.  Mere individual and family survival in the present will not ensure the future of your children’s children.

Finding a vital, interactive, smart way to share is what will allow us to prosper long into the future. We are in a global world where our fates link.  Neither toxic chemicals nor toxic financial practices respect boundaries.  They have already found their way into practically every public space.

If the problem is public, the solution will have to be public.  This is the hope of connected communities.

Democratic capitalism

This leaves us with one important question before we embark on our exploration:  Can there be such a thing as democratic capitalism?  Isn’t capitalism inherently about taking and maximizing individual financial profit at the expense of others?  “Aren’t you really talking about some jazzed up form of communism or socialism?”

No, quite the opposite.  Upon close examination democratic capitalism may be the only real capitalism out there and the most viable alternative to corrupted capitalism. Democratic capitalism in simple terms is “having money serve people.”  Corrupted capitalism is “having people serve money.”

In other words, capitalist systems that personify money and objectify people are corrupted.  (You see this in terms like “human capital.”)  Capitalist systems that respect people and objectify money (i.e. use currency as units of exchange to optimize well-being) have at least a chance of being connected and healthy.

Democratic capitalism is of, by, and for the people.  Who else is the economy supposed to serve?  The rich (plutocracy)?  The state (socialism)?  The ruling bureaucracy (communism)?  The self-appointed elite (oligarchy)?  Kings (monarchy)? Corporations (corporatocracy)?  No.  It is meant to serve you and me together.

We have never fully enacted democratic capitalism, and it is about high time we started.

From trillion dollar government welfare checks to crooked banks, to billion dollar subsidies of Big Oil (even when they were making record profits), to pork barrel goodies for a whole range of constituencies, the message up to now has been clear:  “Get yours.  Extract from everyone else.”

No functioning system, much less capitalism, can run on that premise forever.

The fact that healthy democratic capitalism has never been enacted should not be a discouragement.  We do not have the luxury of despair. We need to learn our historical lessons, take the best of current capitalism, and create what is essential for the future.

This the purpose of Transforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities .

Let’s do this.  Let’s make democratic capitalism happen.

For a great critical analysis on the present corrupted economy and user’s manual for the emerging future democratic economy, consider buying a copy of Transforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities.

If you are interested to “Learn to Transform” in the area of economy.  Sign up for the Transforming Economy email subscriber list and receive a free copy of “Five Courageous Steps to Transform Your Economy.”

Thanks, everyone for you patience and support.  My book is now out there.  Take up the mantle!

 

 

 

Becoming the Change You Wish to Be

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. [Popularly paraphrased as “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”] (Mahatma Gandhi)

“We have been taught, often with ulterior motives, to understand change as something that happens to us, as something beyond our control… But what if change is something that happens from us, something we choose, initiate, and develop?” (From the introduction of the soon-to-be released book, Transforming Economy: From Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities, by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D.)

It is one thing to think abstractly about “being” the change. It is quite another to go about becoming the person that can “be the change”. Changing is not something you merely decide to do or not. It is something you learn to do. Constructive change is something you engage consciously and proactively.

Imagine you are a child in a family where one parent decides to pack everyone up and move households without explanation. No goodbyes, no time to process emotions, no conversation about the future and what it holds, no planning for transition. This is change done to you. As a child with limited capacity to understand the larger forces and decisions around you, you would likely associate such change with powerlessness.

Many of us remain like that child into adulthood. We see ourselves being swept up in change beyond our control, and we seek to buffer its effects. We remain in a reactive mode, viewing change like a wild horse that must be tamed or avoided.

However, even in situations of change beyond our control, our response can be an empowered choice. We forget this, precisely because we have been trained to simply accept or reject change (the passive consumer mentality) rather than engage, investigate, and interact with change (the active citizen mentality).

Becoming an effective change-maker means learning how to meet and treat change (in yourself and your world) as a subject to engage rather than as an object to fight.

So how do you do this?

Engaging change: Confronting assumptions

First, it is essential you confront the assumptions you have been taught about change. These assumptions are either conscious or unconscious and they have a powerful effect on your emotions and your choices around change.

  • Change creates instability (true). Therefore change is bad (false). Most people like their routines and rhythms and do not simply want life to be careening from one unpredictable situation to another. However, without the instability created by change, there is no such thing as creativity, insight, and even love. Biological life itself would be impossible without the constant change involved in the chemical reactions that keep your body running. Change is necessary for life. Instability can be positive.
  • Change is something that presents itself to you (true). Therefore, your only real choice is to accept or reject it (false). Change is not a product; it is a process. Change is not an object for your approval; it is an unavoidable part of reality calling for your participation. Change is essentially an opportunity to engage life more fully and responsibly. Change that feels initially painful (losing a job) can liberate you to pursue your dream vocation. Change that feels initially pleasurable (getting drunk) can end up in a hangover. First impressions are not good indicators for change. One must engage change over time and go beyond simplistic accepting and rejecting.
  • Change will come anyway, even if you try to avoid it (true). Therefore, have someone else deal with it (false). Avoiding the thought of aging does not prevent death from coming. You can outsource your anxiety to a priest who will reassure you about ever-lasting life, but this does not alter the physical reality. Conversely, you can choose to live present life more profoundly by expressing yourself through that change process called growth. Not to do so means giving up your power, depth, and choice.

What are the effects of false assumptions about change—that change is bad/painful, a pre-formed product, and better handled by others? The primary effect is fear of change, and therefore a failure to learn how to engage change well.

Modern research shows that threat shuts down the parts of the brain associated with learning, and that encouragement opens up and empowers these learning parts of the brain. In short, if you see change as a threat, you will not be able to learn from it. If you see change as an intriguing opportunity you will prosper in learning change.

Thinking of change as “a done deal,” created by others and voted on by you, is not much better than fearing change, because this assumption reinforces passiveness in the face of change, and intensifies the desire to offload choices regarding change to others—politicians, experts, etc.

These effects combined together give one the impression that change is a consumer commodity. The multi-billion dollar advertising industry knows this and thrives on placing appliance ads (and your opportunity to buy “pleasant change”) next to newspaper stories of unpleasant change— wars, famines, tornadoes, and robberies.

The suburban American Dream, with its McMansions and big barbecue grills, is really just an updated (but just as primitive) version of the cave with a fire, a sanctuary of material comfort amidst the dangerous, swirling world of change outside.

But in a world that is seeking to move past mere survival toward thriving, a consumer ethic around change is no longer adequate. Witness the story of an internet forum contributor who spends all his time consuming books and writing journals on change without getting anywhere:

“Why do (I) fear change? Even if it can bring good things? I’ve tried to change so many, many times but, so far, have always failed. Am I actually afraid of changing? And, if so, why? How can I overcome this fear?…

(S)elf-help books: I must have every title. I read them, get excited about the info they give, change a little but just go back to the way I was again. I journaled for five years. When I started to look back on what I’d written one year before it was exactly how I was today, two years before, just the same, etc. The same problems, nothing had changed, only I had gotten older. I could write a book on self-help. I can advise others, but I can’t seem to change. 101 exercise regimes started, but I quit them all. I’m in a job/career that I’ve always wanted to leave but never have. I’d have opportunities to go into other careers, but I’ve not. I was on the brink of changing my life but I just got so scared and scurried back to the life that is making me lifeless. Afraid I’d miss my friends, the way of life that is familiar to me. This safety net I have I guess? I must be afraid of change. Why? I wish I knew, and if I did, maybe I could resolve this terrible problem that is just frustrating me so so much.” (DustyMan) (http://www.uncommonforum.com/viewtopic.php?t=76058)

Notice how thoroughly the previously identified false assumptions are embedded in DustyMan’s predicament. 1) He experiences intense doses of fear around change, shutting down his ability to learn effectively about change and persist in improvement, 2) He is consuming products that he hopes will give him the magic bullet, 3) He is looking for some higher authority to give him the keys to success. Change remains external to him.

Change must have an internal component, a committed attitude of encouragement and curiosity around change (“What am I capable of? Let’s see.”). DustyMan cannot “be” change without “becoming” friends with change. He cannot become friends with change if he does not invite the creative, connective prospect of change into his character.

Responding effectively to unexpected change

“It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s that place in between that we fear… It’s like being between trapezes. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There’s nothing to hold on to.” (Marilyn Ferguson)

Even change done “to you” can be transformed into change done “from you” by your proactive response. What if you are fired from a job? What if your loved one suddenly dies of a heart attack? What if you get in an accident and lose the use of your legs?

Proactive response to change is the difference between a paraplegic who trains for the Paralympics and one who falls into a depression and shuts himself in his home. We see and know this difference. But somehow it does not register in our general attitudes toward change.

Traumatic changes are almost always considered a curse, and pleasant changes a blessing. Then we simply go about trying to minimize the traumatic and maximize the pleasant, tally them up, and calculate whether we’ve had a good life.

We rarely ask the question, as I was forced to when moving to the Philippines, “Can traumatic changes accelerate self-awareness and focus?” “Can pleasant changes make life just interesting enough to avoid boredom but secure enough to live in shallow complacency?”

Initiating and developing change

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” (Marianne Williamson)

What examples of positive, thoughtful, caring change we can learn from? Actually, there are many if we just look around. These three short videos below are good demonstrations.

What do these videos have in common? They all embrace positive change as a “what if” experiment, a dazzling alternative, an invitation to a meaningful life. Therein lies the genius of change. It is both the pathway to and the fountain from which conviction and purpose spring. These people get energy and meaning out of change, and so can you.

Change of frame: In this video (“A Twelve Year Old Tells Us How the Banks Are Robbing Us”), Victoria Grant, calls out the corruption of the Canadian private banking system. She is articulate and gutsy. She provides policy alternatives. If Victoria represents even a sliver of the future generations, then there is hope for positive change.

Change of heart: This inspirational video (“The Greatest Man on Earth!”) shows an Indian chef and a Brahmin who used to work at a top restaurant before opening his heart and providing delicious food, grooming, and clothing to the hungry, suffering, and poor on India’s streets.

Change of life: What I like about this more pragmatic video (“The High Price of Materialism”) is its concise demonstration of how we can actually improve our standard of living by owning less and sharing more. Sustainable change can actually be a step up, rather than a step down.

Conclusion

As these videos show, we can embrace our highest human possibilities by engaging change constructively. These videos also demonstrate that if we fail to courageously and consciously work for mindful, positive change we will leave thoughtless, destructive change in our wake.

The present situation is clear. We have created far greater threats by trying to avoid change, then by accepting the challenge of change. Our refusals to change our wasteful ways, our addictions to personal comfort, and our tendencies to exploit others, have created greater environmental, political, and economic instability, not less.

Even now, when the consequences are in our face, we still resist the need for deep changes. For all the rhetoric of “reform” and “change you can believe in” in education, economics, politics, and the environment, precious little substantive change has been initiated and sustained. Perhaps, we are avoiding future blame or running from past guilt.

When we embrace change, we replace these small and static conceits with the desire for initiative and movement.

Let’s take up change as a joy, rather than a grim necessity. Let’s make change an invited, pleasurable part of how we learn. We will be straining against every habit of our industrial training, our deeply engrained emotional, institutional, and cultural habits.

However, if we pull this off, a powerful liberation will emerge. No longer will we be hiding away in our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual caves, because now we can live with each other and appreciate the gift of change that we have created together.

In this viral, interconnected world, small change influences can assert large effects. Conscious change that you embrace now can have a multiplied result. Therefore, seize the opportunity and challenge of change in what deeply calls you, and work with others to become more dynamic participants in the shaping of our world.

Now is time to make good. Now is the time to make change good.

Please offer your own change story in the comments. How have you engaged change proactively?

Learning to Die Well (and Transform for the Better)

I started my recent guest post, “Daring to Die”, with a controversial passage:

“I came to live in Manila, Philippines two years ago, and I died.   I died to the person I thought I was.  I came with plans and pretensions, and these were stripped from me.  I was left an exposed man—a man ready to absorb life outside the cocoon of my former self.”

I got quite a response from family, friends, and readers.  “Great article,” said many, “but do you really mean die?”  “Isn’t that pretty melodramatic?”, asked my wife.  Another friend wondered, “Are you trying to be provocative?  Don’t you really mean ‘transformation’?”

Yes, I was trying to be provocative, but, yes, I also deliberately chose “die.” What happens when you can no longer restrict transformation to manageable sections of your life?  What happens when events force whole populations to question their central identities and assumptions?

You get the “death” of the old and transformation into the new—deep, comprehensive transformation.

You and I are taught to fear comprehensive transformation in any area of our lives, as we are taught to avoid even the thought of physical death.  But every once in a great while, personally and socially, we are confronted with a core demand to change not just “things” about us but who we are and what our society represents.

We are now in such a time.

Our Industrial Age and its values and principles are dying.  Materialism, comfort, and working in a 9-to-5 job, getting promotions, and retiring no longer provide the purpose or even sustainable physical foundation upon which to live.  Most of us sense this dying but don’t know what to do.

We need to learn to die well and become transformed for the better.

Butterfly cells as a metaphor for death and rebirth

Most people imagine a caterpillar slowly and beautifully changing into a butterfly in the shielded comfort of a cocoon.  The reality is far different.

New cells, called imaginal cells, form in the cocoon as if from nowhere.  These imaginal cells are so different that, even though they emerge from within the caterpillar itself, they are attacked as invaders.

Eventually the number of imaginal cells are too great to be countered, and they prosper and clump together to form the specialized parts of the new butterfly.

Cutting open the cocoon midway through development, you see not an orderly transition but rather a mass of ooze-like cells engaged in a struggle.  The old cells die, but not without a fight, and the new cells emerge to complete a most remarkable metamorphosis.

So it is with our lives. The death of old ideas and ways is a valiant one, a noble struggle, which vets and tests the mettle of those new ideas and ways that emerge.

Old ideas, habits, social markers, and conventional wisdom do not yield gracefully.  They fight to remain alive before they eventually die.  We, of course, do not literally die with them, though it can sometimes feel like we have.  We remain.

Learning is facing, choosing, transforming, and creating

Few people flat out “want” to die.  But learning to transform involves consciously preparing for the death of obsolete ways that may appeal to our psychological desires for security but work against our practical requirements for the future.  A caterpillar yields to a natural process of change ending in a completely new entity.  We must face, choose, and create our change processes to do the same.

I outline these processes of comprehensive transformation in some detail in the areas of economics, education, and spirituality on this blog, guest posts, and a soon-to-be released book on the future of economies called “Transforming Economy: Moving from Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities.”

These essays identify evidence that business as usual is definitively ending and being replaced by new, emerging forms:

Economy: Mantras like “buy, buy, buy” and “jobs, jobs, jobs” don’t cut it anymore.  We are reaching the material limits of our environment in our overproduction of goods and financial limits in terms of debt.  Automation has erased jobs, even as the population has grown.  Lifestyle and meaning dependent upon these blind articles of economic faith are bound to die with them.

We are being invited to produce rather than simply consume.  We are being called to contribute meaningfully to our communities and families without necessarily having a paying job. Non-material goods like learning, diversity, conversation, progressive faith, creativity, and problem-solving are starting to emerge as new sources of value.

Education: Schools are being pressured to produce more students who succeed in the aforementioned obsolete economic model.  So even if those students succeed, overall they fail, because the purposes of schooling do not match up with emerging trends.  Education reform has yet to grasp the crux and enormity of change gripping our world.

We ask students to delay direct contribution to society for nearly two decades (counting the years from elementary school through university graduate education).  This is a waste of learners’ minds, just as mindless consumption is a waste of the environment.  “Direct learning,” the application of the learning mind directly to concrete community problems starting from an early age would be a welcome change.

Spirituality:  Mainstream churches are aging fast and losing members at staggering rates.  Young people are simply finding many conservative churches too intolerant and many liberal churches too irrelevant.

The fastest growing category in Western countries is “spiritual but not religious”.  Young people are looking for experiential environments that demand their involvement and leadership and that prepare them for this life of change and not simply the next life.

Deeper looking

When presented with physical death, we typically put our house in order, giving away what we cannot take with us.  We put the important before the urgent. We put the fundamental issues of love and mourning before the pressing trivialities of committee meetings.

This is not simply an ideal we need practice when we are about to leave this world.  It is a practice we can cultivate now, by surrendering what can no longer be maintained and opening to rebirth—the rebirth of a new person, a new awareness, a new society, and a new reality.

If we look more closely into our lives, we can gain insight into facing the shadow of physical death.  We notice that dying is itself a change ending in a new form of life.  We practice this by engaging the present shadows in our psyches—fear of change, fear of vulnerability, fear of not being what we thought we were.

We realize upon deeper looking that we never were what we thought we were.  We are a work in progress, as much created as creating.  Our job is to keep that conversation between creating and being created continually moving.

Ask yourself: Are you playing “not to lose” a mortal life that is already lost when you were born.  Are you clinging to your fragile condition?  Are you trying to freeze time and fortune in a “sensible” (but somewhat senseless) job or a comfortable rut musing about the “good ole days?”

Try something fundamentally new.  Lose the life you cling to in order to gain a life that grows within you.

If you like this essay, please subscribe for free up at the top of the Citizen Zeus home page. I will notify you about upcoming essays on transformative learning and give sneak peeks into my upcoming book, “Mindflexing: Unleashing the Power of Transformative Learning” as well as information on how to access “Transforming Economy:  Moving from Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities.” Thanks!

by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D. January 28, 2013, copyright 2013 (please feel free to share for educational or personal purposes)

How to Directly Fix a Disabled Education System (Rather than Blame Teachers, Parents, or Students)

“Houston, we have disability problem.”  It’s not a learning disability problem. It’s not primarily a teaching disability problem.  It is an education disability problem. Our current way of understanding learning, its purposes and practices, no longer works.

Teachers themselves are not the main source of this problem.  The vast majority are smart, diligent, underpaid professionals doing some of the toughest, most important jobs in society.

Nor are students and parents primarily the problem.  Though it is trendy to knock younger learners and their parents for poor learning and lifestyle habits, even so-called trouble makers can be quite focused, smart, and motivated when engaged with meaningful work.

So where does the problem come from?  Why aren’t students learning, parents supporting, and teachers teaching as well as they could?

Education should engage change directly

Learning is fundamentally an adaptive ability, but somehow education systems have lost that notion. Because our current education is not adapting to emerging conditions fast and fully enough, it is becoming ineffective and irrelevant.

It is time to develop and apply learning that can effectively respond to change.  This starts with engaging real, emerging problems directly.

Let me give one positive, concrete example of what effective, enabled education might look like:

In communities across the United States you have a large aging population (the baby boomers), large numbers of young university graduates without jobs (many of whom have significant debt), and a food supply chain with 40% waste, much of it in grocery stores that overstock and simply dispose of food past an expiry date.

Why not have a “learning and service corps” for unemployed youth to study and meet community needs such as these.  If done right, I could see young people being compensated in saved food for service work with the elderly (in addition to non-material benefits like mentoring).  For that matter, youth and elderly could work together to can or freeze food about to be wasted.

Policy-wise, you could sweeten the pot by eliminating student loan debt for community service, and giving tax deductions to companies that participate.

You don’t have to look far to notice that the world is changing drastically, from technology to the environment to family and culture.  Yet we have an education system (including curriculum, research, and training) based upon reproduction of past skills not the transformation of learning to create new capacities and new organization to meet new conditions.

We are no longer in an engineered, industrial world where citizens can be treated like programmable machines, told what to do, and slotted into pre-determined roles. If we keep reproducing old ways, we will accelerate environmental degradation, economic debt, and social unrest.

We are in an improvisational world requiring dramatically increased awareness, literacy, collaboration, and ability to analyze, initiate, create, integrate, and apply beyond institutional walls and job descriptions.

Take economic literacy.  I had a pretty decent high school in the 1980’s, but I didn’t even see a checkbook until I opened my first bank account in college.  You can imagine my high school did not delve into financial math, the world of credit, how to start and run a business, or the more in-depth applications of economic literacy.

A generation later, schools haven’t changed much. They still offer abstract calculus purely to expand students’ minds and get them through the social hoops and gates for “upper-level” thought and career.  There may be merit to developing a “math mind”, but why do we insist on teaching everything in such a non-applied way?

Please, tell me (with a straight face) why it matters that a student can solve:  “Max has three balls, and Sally has four balls more than Max, and Suzie has one ball less than Sally.  How many balls do they have all together?” Why aren’t we applying math to real life issues in a sustained way that engages and develops the world outside the classroom?

Why aren’t we hitting financial decision-making hard?  Student loan debt has exceeded a trillion dollars in the U.S.  Credit card debt is in the trillions.  These are pressing, undeniable life and world issues.  Yet these are rarely addressed in schools.

Misguided notions of learning excellence and educational reform

To be blunt: I don’t care if you are a “blue ribbon school.”  I don’t ultimately care if you have the highest test scores in the nation. I don’t care how prestigious your school is or how much charge for that prestige.  If your education is failing the life and reality test for preparing learners effectively for the future, you are educationally disabled.

I’m convinced that the dramatic rise in “unschooling,” “de-schooling,” and “home-schooling” can be attributed to the scarcity of educational institutions that pass this simple life/reality test.

Let’s face it, schooling has rarely been about active citizenship and working directly on personal and social problems.  It has mostly been about authorizing individuals to climb stairs toward higher social status, money, and power.  Depending on how high they go, these individuals then “lead” other people in solving problems that they may have little or no direct practice in engaging.

Talk about the blind leading the blind!  When the main purpose of schooling is to promote yourself, you have less time or energy to learn competent public service, or, for that matter, to engage in sound, clear thinking.

This is why so many of the talking heads and “experts” we see on television strike us as idiots and liars. They’ve learned the glossy surface but not the gritty substance of their topics.  More and more people are rightfully concluding that phrases like “It’s too complicated,” and “Let the experts handle this,” are nothing more than flimflams and fig leafs for not knowing what you are doing.

This is also why we admire the examples of “uneducated” people who were able to do remarkable things or community activists who were able to accomplish what a slew of politicians and experts could not or would not.

What distinguishes these people (and effective education, by extension) is their directness and responsiveness.  They identified a possibility, analyzed it, and creatively organized their own and/or other people’s talents around that possibility to get something done.

It is no surprise to me that Apple-co founder, Steve Jobs, Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, and Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, all dropped out of their universities.  Universities need to be more accountable for creating current, applied knowledge.  A learner should be encouraged to create and build something remarkable while in school, not simply after, for education to be meaningful preparation for the world.  Grades are okay, but a successful community project would be much better.

The younger generation is picking up on this disconnect in value in higher education.  I know personally two smart, energetic young women from supportive families, who have taken alternative paths as a result.  One decided to forego college to start her own website and then work at a tech startup.  The other took a sabbatical from her college to work more directly on multicultural issues and support her family.

Even the gate keeping mechanisms to institutions of “higher learning” seem strangely disconnected.  Why would SATs (standardized entrance tests to college) devise an “analytical ability” section involving applying logic to a problem no one cares about and no one will use in any practical way.

And please do not tell me that is desirable to engage in “education reform” which is nothing more than an attempt to import urban kids to jobs and lifestyles that allow them consume and waste as much as their upper-middle class, suburban counterparts. How about an education that helps them transform their communities while being eco-friendly?

Wisdom from the margin

We live in an “app” world in more ways than one.  Especially with technological advances, people are identifying unmet needs, creating advances to meet those needs, and distributing solutions.  If something does not work, then something better must be created fill the gap.  We need an education that similarly facilitates that process of real-world identification, creation, testing, refinement, and solution.

So far education has done a poor job of identifying what does not work because its measurements of success are based on assumptions that no longer work.  So even if you succeed individually, you fail socially. You can do all the “right” things—get good grades, score high on tests, get into good schools, and get a high-paying job—and still harm the planet and other people more than you help.

This is the unsustainable “status quo” definition of success, and the status quo is sticking to it, despite the demonstrable harm it presents to future generations.  Creative, positive rebellion is therefore necessary.

From an early age I’ve spent thousands of hours working directly with young leaders; democracy, religious, health, and community activists; learning disabled students; multicultural, gender, and disability advocates; and cultural creatives, trying to develop effective “alternatives” to the business as usual.

Now I realize that these separate “marginal” groups actually share ascending central concerns and philosophies and should be integrated to develop a competing body of practice, replace industrial habits, and take hold in the center of society.

Kicking our industrial habits and developing a new frame of action

How do we create a new education to reflect a new world?  We can start by becoming aware of our present habits and committing to new frames of thought, habit, and action.

Old habits still pull on us psychologically even as they exacerbate unsustainable social practices.  Here are some things we will need to meet squarely in designing effective educational replacements:

  • Wealth and well-being– While being respectful and resourceful with money, let us not be duped into defining our worth by it.  Money is a tool.  Our worth rests in leaving a world richer in health and possibility through the contribution of our love, creativity, sacrifice, and good sense.
  • Security–  We are accustomed to guarantees, to being “taken” care of by a job, a pension, or by Social Security if we do what we are told in school, work, and society.  With increasing frequency these promises are no longer being kept, making mutual community support ever more important.
  • Meaning– This could be the motto of industrial era meaning: “I am what I do.  I am what I have.  I am what other people say about me”  (Henri Nouwen).  This self-absorption needs to switch more firmly toward service and participation if our schools are to responsibly prepare the next generations.
  • Order–  Old notions of order are based upon putting everything in the appropriate box (i.e. “learning disabled” or “gifted”) and attaching a label with a list of attributes.  In today’s world these habits are limiting effectiveness; it is more useful to customize learning by direct interaction rather than by juggling labels.
  • Authority– From bailing out irresponsible banks to No Child Left Behind education legislation, hierarchical “higher-ups” have been making unwise decisions and using the coercive power of their offices to enforce unwise decisions.  For the future, democratic authority must emanate primarily from proven, grass-roots action, not from individuals who simply exert power.
  • Success–  We tend to define success in terms of money, influence, and individual accomplishment.  Now we find there is not enough room for all these pedestals.  Instead of giving a trophy for every trivial achievement, why not move to mutual accomplishment requiring everyone’s deepest talents.  Why not move from “job” to “calling,” from material to non-material purposes, from success to excellence.

Third Way Education

Past innovative education and education reform attempts still struggle within a limited framework of conservative vs. liberal ideology.  You see this in reasons for homeschooling: Liberal parents tend to take their kids out of school because they find the curriculum too depersonalized, dumbed-down, and consumeristic.  Conservative parents take their kids out because they find that school culture contradicts their moral values.

As a so-called Gen-Xer, straddling generations, I propose we combine the best of past traditions, eliminate the worst, and strive to exceed both in our learning going forward.

You are already seeing this “third way” moving in much of the younger generation. They tend to be less brand-identified and institutional. Pragmatic solutions mean more to them than stances. “Spiritual but not religious” is a fast growing category.  Gay marriage is supported in much higher numbers across the political spectrum. Reproductive rights are also supported but there are also a higher percentage of young people who would not personally choose abortion because there are other options.

From conservative and liberal to progressive

Emerging generations are becoming post-partisan “progressives” more interested in moving forward than moving left or right.  Educationally they believe in solving problems not arguing about values.  Let’s pick up on this.  Decreasing unwanted pregnancy, for instance, is a goal we can all agree on, though we may have different ways to address it depending upon our backgrounds.  Education could be a way to evaluate the different options, the implicit values, trade-offs, and consequences of various approaches.

From dependent and independent to interdependent

Instead of the learned helplessness of remedial classes or the fetishized exceptionalism of gifted programs, why can’t schools at least have some instances where the purposes of schooling involves identifying, developing, and integrating the strongest personal talents of students in a collaborative fashion.  Envision individual and group portfolios of not just learning products but evaluated public projects and self-aware multi-media rendered learning processes, where application, experimentation, and learning style discovery and development play a central role.

From teacher-centered and child-centered to relation-centered

Let’s move beyond romanticizing either the “drill sergeant” teachers and their exacting demands or the bleeding heart teachers who “feel your pain”.  There is merit in both academic rigor and emotional compassion, but the relation-centered teacher does not see these as an end.  Rather he or she incorporates these elements in facilitating students’ own initiative and development of their learning leadership.  Relation-centered education would involve a mix of high challenge and high support— individual rigor, discipline, character-development, and skill blended with creativity, care, collaboration, and customized learning.

From group think and individual brain to social mind

One of education’s biggest and most important tasks is to challenge insulated thinking everywhere, whether it involves superstitions, naïve idealisms, or religious, economic, and political fundamentalisms.  Yet too often we confine this important task to individual critical capacity, i.e. fortifying the inward filter with which people receive and evaluate information.  In the era of Google and Wikipedia, we must expand this capacity to teach our individual minds to “swing outward” into what I call the “social mind” and creatively access, connect with, and contribute to a matrixed world.

From research and teaching to learning

Having been a university education professor as well as a practicing teacher for at-risk high school students, I can confirm that both educational research and teacher training miss huge opportunities to improve learning directly.  Research tends to be too abstract and removed to be practical and teaching tends to be to day-to-day practical to capture the big picture of learning.  Both often treat learning as a static object or something one does to an object.  Learning is better understood as a dynamic, mutual relationship one has with some entity.  As Nietzsche might say, the learner is not merely a “doer” but part of a “deed”.  Conversation is, therefore, the appropriate metaphor for learning.  It is also the effective basis for creating high performance in my learning consulting practice.

From state and individual in-fighting to community mobilization

Central office education bureaucracies war with state funding departments.  Teachers’ unions war with administrators. Parents seek the most extensive (and expensive) interventions for their particular children. This adversarial push and pull represents an obsolete framework:  Competing interests are trying to impose ideology, rather than forming a diverse, but allied, community to offer and integrate their best know-how.  Learning is ultimately a community enterprise.  Community is big enough to represent the world “out there,” but intimate enough to generate accessible experiences, relationships, and results “in here.” Community serves learning by offering an oasis between impersonal institutional mandates and purely personal advocacy.

Conclusion

This is grass-roots-minded democratic education.  It is neither state-minded socialism, nor individually-minded libertarianism.  State-run enterprises erode initiative and agency in managing community and individual learning.  Individualistic models imply there is no responsibility required outside one’s self.

True interactive, democratic education requires a much higher level of performance and participation than traditional education.  Democratic learners have to engage their relationships, their environment, their skills, and their own unique nature in a rigorous, authentic way to effectively contribute to the learning conversation.

This raises the bar:  Learners accept who they are in the start of an experiment in what they might be.  Instead of “minimum requirements,” “maximum growth, attainment, and exchange” become the new standard.  This is the very definition of excellence in an interconnected world.

Let’s raise our game and engage in this learning experiment ourselves.  We need it.  The world needs it.  Future generations need it.  In doing so, let’s also adopt a game plan that can maximize our chances of success.

If you liked this essay, please subscribe for free up at the top of the Citizen Zeus home page. I will notify you about upcoming essays on transformative learning as well as my soon-to-be released book, “Transforming Economy: Moving from Corrupted Capitalism to Connected Communities”.  I will also give sneak peeks into my upcoming book, “Mindflexing: Unleashing the Power of Transformative Learning”. Thanks!

by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D. December 20, 2012, copyright 2012 (please feel free to share for educational or personal purposes)

 

 

 

On the Wisdom of Children, the Immaturity of Adults, and the Folly of Schools

Adults often tease children for having an imaginary friend or special stuffed animal.  “Aww, isn’t that cute,” we say, believing they’ll grow out of it

Yet that imaginary friend or stuffed animal is teaching that child to interact, learn language, exercise imagination, and engage a host of important life challenges.

Children are recognizing, rehearsing, and developing real life skills and values through play, and they are not that concerned about how it looks to the outside. Let’s hope they don’t grow out of that.

Now, let’s turn a keen eye on adults.  We use a large part of our alleged intelligence to deny rather than engage the reality around us.  We ignore global warming, personal deficiencies, racial, gender, and class inequality, and the list goes on.

Ironically, we often use a pragmatic “realism” to excuse away pertinent facts which seriously impact the survival of the present and future human race.

Who is mature, and who is immature in these situations?

The wisdom of children

A child sees a homeless person on a street, asks about that homeless person, and wants to intervene.

“Why are there homeless people? Is there something we can do?”

“I know… it’s sad.  I wish we could,” adults typically reply, copping out of a long explanation and hiding behind a self-motivated desire to avoid grim truths.  Instead, we attempt to protect children from the ugliness of the world by denying them compassion.

Why couldn’t we simply say, “That’s important to know.  Let’s find out.  We don’t want people to be without community, food, shelter and someone to love.” Why couldn’t schools make this problem and other concrete social problems and opportunities the core of their curricula?

Is there anything more important and immediate to learning than addressing suffering—the suffering of the earth and its inhabitants?

Who is immature?  We adults are.  We do not face reality.  We are the ones playing peekaboo with our denial and fantasy. We are the ones providing excuses for our irresponsible behavior and inaction.

It is children who seem to understand the higher value of essential non-material virtues—love, care, truth, courage, honesty.  On a visceral level they “get” that loving presence is more valuable than an expensive toy substituting for an absent parent. We adults don’t.

The immaturity of adults

So we confirm that children are collectively wise in their actions, rather than innocent, and that we adults are collectively immature, rather than wise.

Yes, an individual child may throw a temper tantrum, and an individual adult may care for the poor, but wisdom or immaturity is most evident in the sum effects of the observed groups.  By my accounting, adults as a group are doing far more damage.

We adults are polluting the world, extracting natural resources at an alarming rate, and loading debt on future generations.  And we are effectively taking responsibility for none of it.

We adults like to take kids to task for failing to clean their rooms.  Yet, we fail to clean the planet.  In fact, we leave it messier every day, adding junk not only to the earth’s surface but its atmosphere and its orbit.

We adults like to criticize adolescents for being egocentric and materialistic, yet we aim for five-bedroom McMansions in the suburbs with three- and four-car garages filled with titanium golf clubs, jet skis, and that hot tub we ordered but never quite got installed.

We rant about teens who irresponsibly charge three hundred dollar electronic gadgets to their parents’ credit cards.  Then we turn around and rack up trillions of dollars of national debt (in just a few years) and put that on our children’s credit card.

We bemoan the cyber-bullying among youth that may cause suicides numbering in tens or hundreds, but promote large scale geo-political bullying, in the form of pointless and violent wars, costing hundreds of thousands of innocent lives.

We like to counsel our kids about being financially literate, deferring gratification, and investing in their future—saving for college, a down payment for a house— but we’ve let our community and national infrastructure go to pot in the mad rush to lower taxes and fund cushy individual retirements.

The folly of schools

And of course we build schools to perpetuate and reproduce this insanity.

“Get yours” is the implicit rallying cry of schools toiling under the legacy of industrial education.

“Be compassionate and excel!” does not appear to be the operating motto.

We look in most schools at the continued relentless emphasis on competition, on testing, on preparation for individual jobs, on singular achievement, and we see a main theme emerging, “Nobody matters but you,” quite at odds with official mission statements.

Even though present schools exist in an age well beyond the Industrial Era, schools continue to retain and enact industrial habits.  They still largely treat the learner as a product to be processed, quality controlled, and prepared for material consumption and production.

The goals of most schools are typically not chosen from the grass-roots concerns of the learning community but rather adapted from predetermined standards decided by experts. Learners and their experience are apparently not to be trusted in an industrial system.

This framework requires stripping away imagination, genius, and difference, and replacing it with “civilized” obedience and homogenized delivery.   The person gets lost in the process.  Curiosity, inquiry, and engagement are met with formulas.  Education splits from learning.  Learners become objectified “students.”

Here is the catch, though.  Industrial education no longer works.  In fact, it concretely makes matter worse.  You cannot just blindly advocate for more of the same, more jobs, jobs, jobs and more manufacturing and consumption in a shrinking world, and expect to solve global pollution and resource scarcity.

Despite this, educational authorities, if anything, have regressed more deeply into an industrial mode of thinking.  They’ve responded to uncertainty with the same top-down control that gave rise to our current uncertainties and challenges in the first place.

You notice this impulse in the latest pushes to increase testing in schools, “get back to basics,” and increase academic standards.   These do have valid learning uses but not when applied to mistaken notions about the nature of reality and the purposes of learning.

Current education tells us to ignore suffering, to box it up, and delegate it to some abstract authority somewhere else:  “Social responsibility is not our department.  Just study and get that high-paying job, raise a family, and let everyone else fend for themselves.”

Why do we keep trying to be Dr. Frankenstein, imposing our compartmentalized will on life rather than learning from the billions of years of holistic wisdom inherent in the life around us?  Why do we insist on reproducing obsolete knowledge in our world and in our children (and paying for our stubbornness)?  I don’t have a good answer.

We simply need to value effective transformative learning above obsolete reproductive education.

Developing people’s unique genius and ability to contribute and collaborate in an interconnected world is no longer a luxury.  Critical, creative democratic, grass-roots education is an urgent necessity in a changing world.

A new vision of democratic, grass-roots education

“Learning originates with people, and [yet] schooling has very little to do with people, but rather processes.  I’ve long wondered why we don’t simply make a school based on people, and their problems and opportunities, and simply directly teach to that.” (Zeus Yiamouyiannis in Oct. 24, 2012 conversation with Kirsten Olson)

Now imagine a school that wasn’t simply built on competitive self-promotion and ignoring the well-being of others.  When a child says, “Can we help that homeless person?,” we might actually say “yes” in a fuller way.

Imagine a school based in an aware community, digging up the roots of the homelessness (or pollution, or bullying, or debt, or intolerance) in a way that goes beyond personal charity or coping to unearth the structures that gives rise to injustices.

Imagine a school where active empathy, art, creativity, entrepreneurialism, critical social thinking, and problem-solving organize the curriculum.  Where pressing needs like non-violence, environmental care, and multicultural, economic, and political literacy become the centers of an enterprise we learn to engage together.

Imagine, actually asking and answering the non-rhetorical questions, “What are we to learn in this life?  What is a high quality life for us and others?”

Imagine a school centered in community where “just being a good person” is not enough, where trying to keep your nose clean, obey the rules, and get into heaven are simply motives too selfish to serve as standards of good citizenship.

If we pursue this community option, we will uncover key anti-democratic myths, like “selfishness is human nature”.  We will discover how this myth has been used to naturalize industrial era exploitation, colonialism, inequity, and abuse, and we will hopefully choose to veer from that precedent.

We will learn that it is simply a bad deal to trade integrity and health for “stuff.”

We will learn that “smart” people don’t destroy the world.  They heal and co-create it.

It will be the task of new schools to reconnect self-awareness to others and to the world.  It is my belief, that youth will lead this new connected awareness into practice.  They have the most at stake.  They are young enough to carry that commitment into the future.  They have not epically failed as their forebears have.  They deserve their shot.

Youth know that taking from others, “getting yours” at the expense of others is a failed vision. It doesn’t work in the larger global village, and it destroys individual virtue.

All the realism and “hard skills” in the world cannot trump the fact that “soft” human capacities drive accomplishment. Academic literacy is only a part of educational success.  So-called “soft factors”—organization ability, work ethic, support network, etc.—end up exerting a stronger influence.

Good schooling and world citizenship is based on giving—contribution, concern, care, service.  To support these purposes, education must include personal awareness and excellence, interpersonal respect, community advocacy, and global understanding.

We need an education that does not say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I,” but rather, “There by the grace of God am I”

Conclusion

Real democratic, compassionate education is founded upon an intimate sharing of the human condition, a high sensitivity to the suffering of others, and a high desire to do something about it.  It involves learning to listen and design, rather than assume and impose.

The world’s problems cannot be solved by doubling down on failed habits and purposes.  Comprehensive, complex, collective problems are solved when the genius in every heart, soul, body, and mind is unleashed and powerfully connected.  This is the promise of true pluralism.

What is stopping us from directly devoting ourselves to the cherished non-material values and skills of love, creativity, solidarity, critical challenge, mindfulness, and community?  What is stopping us from letting money, work, education, and social organization serve these aims and capacities?

Nothing.

There is no shortcut.  We cannot have elite scientists or technology engineer from the top down what is inherently a bottom up human enterprise.  We’ve already tried the top-down shortcut to “perfection,” and we got eugenics, religious fundamentalism, and dictatorships.

We are called to embrace in unity a world of intriguing imperfection and difference, without which there is nothing to learn, nothing to accomplish, and nothing to appreciate and respect.

We need an education that takes the world as it is, in all its beautiful promise and difficult problems, rather than what we might tell it to be.  We need to engage that promise and confront our problems rather than delete them from our consciousness and dump them on the least powerful.

Let us then borrow wisdom rather than money from our children.  Let us listen to that emerging and powerful wisdom in developing our capacities to meet what is in front of us.  May we then craft a universe together with a place for all of us.

If you like this essay, please subscribe for free up at the top of the Citizen Zeus home page. I will notify you about upcoming essays on transformative learning and give sneak peeks into my upcoming book, “Mindflexing: Unleashing the Power of Transformative Learning”. Thanks!

by Zeus Yiamouyiannis, Ph.D. November 21, 2012, copyright 2012 (please feel free to share for educational or personal purposes)

A Revolutionary Cliché: How the Serenity Prayer Can Transform Learning to Change

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”

This Serenity Prayer is known by some as a comforting cliché and by others as a powerful guide in dealing with tough life issues.

It has been trotted out by self-help gurus to emphasize the importance of individual initiative and choice.   It has been incorporated into Alcoholics Anonymous meetings to reinforce the message that one needs a higher power and intelligence to overcome addiction.

Look deeper and you will find in the Serenity Prayer a revolutionary source for transformative learning.

Imagine a father taking aside his son, “Y’know son, I’m gonna teach you what my daddy taught me, how to grapple with, sort out, and understand the things you can and cannot change.”

Or how about a school?:  “Class, let’s examine moments in history of productive change and other areas where leaders overstepped their reasonable limits and tried to change things they were better off not changing.  Let’s look at the consequences, and then apply these lessons to our own lives.”

This would be nice, but it rarely if ever happens.  For some reason we tend to avoid the profound and necessary life-learning demands of change.  Instead we come up with excuses:  “You can’t teach things like change; they’re too broad or too individual or too innate,” or “Change involve ‘values.’  You can’t teach to change because you’ll impose your values.”

However, the industrial changes we have made as a human society and as individuals are seriously damaging the planet we live on.  This is not a problem that will go away by wishing or ignoring. Do we have much of a choice but to create aware change through learning that transforms our ideas and behavior?

The Serenity Prayer’s invitation to learn.

Let us understand that serenity, courage, and wisdom are core human capacities necessary for surviving and thriving.  Let us also understand that they have practical use and that they can be learned and developed.

The first thing you notice if you take the Serenity Prayer seriously is that we human beings fail the serenity-courage-wisdom test pretty badly.

1)    We mistake cowardice for serenity. We too readily accept abuses that can be changed, especially if changing them would place special demands on us.

2)    We substitute domination for courage.  We attempt to force change upon things that cannot or ought not be changed, often overestimating our ability, using bad judgment, and ignoring feedback in the process.

3)    We outsource our wisdom to ‘expertise’. We spend little if any time having a wise collaborative conversation about what can be changed and why. We have the pros figure all that stuff out.  When they fail, we shrug our shoulders.

It is time to confront these bad habits head-on, generate insights, and create healthy alternatives.  In this endeavor it is important to become keenly aware of the ways in which our rhetoric and actions contradict our deeper knowledge.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change…”

How many of you have ever worked for an organization or company whose internal politics directly contradicted their mission and vision?  (Umm… I thought so, just about every one of you, right?)

Is this something you can change?  How many of you have tried?  For those of you who have tried to intervene in internal politics, what was the result?

How many of you were fired as a result, left the job in frustration, or stayed on but gave up trying?  How many succeeded?  I’m willing to bet a vast majority of those of you who have tried to change institutional culture to align with institutional ideals have failed, sometimes at heavy personal cost.

Okay, another example.  How many of you have had a struggling “friend” who consistently relied upon you to get them through a continuing series of struggles—money, death of a loved one, romantic break-up, finding a place to live, taking care of their dog or cat for a long time while they “find themselves?” (and the list goes on).

Sure it seems like a largely one-way relationship, but you hold out the hope that your friend can “change” and get back on their feet with your help.  After things don’t, you realize that all your help is enabling them to rely upon you in place of change.

Observation: Institutions and people don’t typically choose change overnight if at all, and individuals, by themselves, rarely have the power to enact changes “out there.”  That damn free choice—it can be irrational, counterproductive, maybe just plain wrong, but there it is.

Learning insight #1:  You cannot “make something change.”   You can influence change.  You can be open to change.  You can organize with others and exhibit a new way of acting in the world, that may spur change, but you don’t by yourself “make” change. You are not an external god.  You are part of the change event and its limitations (which can be expanded but not infinitely).

Learning insight #2: Sometimes wisdom means acknowledging that certain people and institutions will resist needed change.  In this case, the best course of action may be to withdraw your energy, and apply it in places more open to change. It may be ultimately better for all involved for you to leave.  (Unfortunately, we are more often taught: “Ignore context.  You can make your ideals succeed no matter what.  Stick by your friends regardless of what they do.”)

Learning insight #3: It is often through tragedy and hurt that you learn and grow the most. Your parent passes away, you lose a job, your marriage breaks up, even though you may have tried your hardest to save them.  Finality brings undeniable changes.  Something dies, and something is born.  You are left with grief but also an opportunity to reexamine your life, your identity, and your mortality and create anew.  This is a hard gift, but one to be respected.

the courage to change the things I can…

In January, 2011 I moved with my family from the San Francisco Bay area to Metro Manila in the Philippines.  I was open to this huge cultural change but not quite prepared for it. I am accustomed to questioning, but to my embarrassment, I did not thoroughly research the move.

My spouse had a good job offer from a development bank in the exciting, pro-social area of microfinance, and I had a small but interesting learning consulting practice I hoped to transport to our new place of residence.

Like many places, the Philippines is a land of emotional and cultural contradiction, a quasi-democracy with vast separation of wealth.  Family drivers can get paid more than college professors.  Huge malls are piled right next to each other, but hardly a single public park can be found. The constant crush of traffic and aggressive driving (at odds with the generally sunny Filipino demeanor) creates stress and boredom at the same time.

Things take longer to complete. People will tell you what they think you want to hear.  Conflict is supremely avoided and “saving face” rules social interaction.  You will rarely find people “getting real” until you are accepted on a more intimate level.

Intellectual and creative culture has been replaced by a vast service culture.  As a consequence, nearly everyone is eager to help, but few are able to direct you to what you need.

Most Filipinos support families on less than ten dollars a day, yet they also spend big on frequent celebrations. Conservative Catholicism co-exists with rampant marital infidelity.  A powerful cultural sense of heart, intuition and optimism, mixes with resignation around political corruption.

As an outsider, you get pulled and tugged into different directions.

“How do I make sense of this?’ My mind reeled at this upheaval.  “What am I going to do?”   Where are the professional opportunities?  Where were the art galleries and book talks and neighborhood coffee houses?  Where are the arenas of debate and creativity?

I found myself starving intellectually and craving meaty engagement.  I railed against what I saw.  I criticized.  I went through my growing pains.  And you know what happened?

I began to create for myself what I could not find around me.  In response to a culture I could not change, I decided to change what I could— myself.

As a result, I have gotten into peak physical shape.  I have begun to search out those hidden subcultures and Filipinos where I could share who I was and develop my ideas.  I have gone on long bike trips with other ex-pats and shared in cultural and intellectual conversations.  I began to develop this website, Citizen Zeus, as an online business and blog around transformative learning.

The irony is this:  When I enjoyed the cultural advantages, the rich artistic, intellectual, natural, and spiritual culture of the Bay Area, I actually accomplished very little for myself.

I was constantly extending myself and developing collaborations that did not pay off.  I applied to all those really cool jobs, and I did not hear back.  I was waiting for someone else to play ball. Now I am not distracted with that.  I can concentrate what I am on this planet to do, and simply go for it.

Observation: Rich culture is not necessarily a blessing.  Poor culture is not necessarily a curse.  Creative initiative requires a certain internal hunger born of a desire to feel and be yourself in the world.  This hunger often does not come if you are too well fed culturally.

Learning insight #4: Create the hunger.  Avoid the temptation to simply participate in a culture of ideas.  Apply yourself, contribute to a world already changing and find the best ways to do that from your own position.  Often the best way to find out what your contribution may be is to challenge yourself to live in a situation where your character is tested and those things that matter most to you must be created by you and brought forward.

Learning insight #5: Change yourself, but do so authentically.  You don’t have to simply give in to a culture. I fought it.  I fought myself.  I faced resistance honestly, not by surrendering myself, but surrendering the parts of me that did not work for my learning.  I changed my methods and expanded my understanding. My values were engaged, not discarded, and they have been made stronger, more “filled out,” and less naïve as result.

…and the wisdom to know the difference.

Western culture leans toward change, achievement, and individualism. Eastern culture leans toward acceptance, humility, and community. They each have their strengths and weaknesses.  In general, you could say that Western culture tries to change too much, and Eastern culture accepts too much.

Neither culture encourages individuals to learn the best relationships between change and acceptance.

Westerners have done the “impossible” by sending men to the moon, setting impressive world records, and inventing amazing new technology.  On the other hand, Western culture has a record of invading and dominating other cultures and destroying the planetary environment in its relentless pursuit for increased standard of living.

Easterners tend to have stronger cultural roots, family ties, respect for ancestors, yet they also (with notable exceptions) seem more willing to accept social injustice, hierarchy, seniority, and caste systems that keep individuals from expressing their deepest potential.

Perhaps it is time for a transformative learning framework that not only combines cultural strengths but surpasses cultural limitations.

In this, it may be helpful to develop simple guiding practices and principles.

1)    Identify significant social needs or contradictions.  Where there is need or contradiction there is fertile soil for productive change.  Some people may array against you, but many more are likely waiting for someone to initiate change.

2)    Observe, discern, and decide whether it is possible to initiate change effectively in your current environment.  See what happens if you go for the gusto. Sometimes a bold individual act can spark a change. More often the individual gets spit out as others watch.  Regardless, inspired risk pays off in either success or learning.  When you experiment and accept the consequences, you’ll develop a craft understanding of the “better bets.”

3)    Reaction deepens resistance and increases threat.  If you want to be successful, create a proactive alternative. If there is a need or injustice out there, it is usually more effective to create a direct, competitive alternative .  For instance, you can “fight city hall” to direct more budget money for the poor, or you can develop community responses and push for matching funds.

4)    Evidence, evidence, evidence.  Take people at their actions, not their word. There are platoons of enthusiastic “mental” change-makers out there who are not mature or committed enough to follow through in action.  Stick with the ones that act.

5)    Results matter.  Drama is not action. The best way to sabotage productive change is to get embroiled in some contentious committee work around a plan to consider changing.  Make your change aim straightforward.  Find people who can help.  Learn by doing. If you fail to create meaningful change, you have the experience to go on for your next change attempt.

6)    Allow yourself to be transformed by the change you engage in.

7)    Trust yourself; strive for naturalness. Change is already challenging enough without pretending to be someone you are not.  Be open, but be yourself.  Stand on and proceed from your principles and purposes.  Trendy changes are rarely authentic or useful. “Seizing the day” does not co-exist well with conformity.

8)    Gain self-fulfillment in collaboration with other change participants. “I am a more fulfilled ‘me’ by a more effective ‘we.’” Having a group merely follow individual ideas of change is outmoded.  We contribute our best as individuals to a group effort that incorporates our best intelligence.  This is not up for vote. Reality, not popularity, is the test.  Does what we offer work better to enact successful change?  Let’s see.

9)    Supportive environment supersedes ‘battle.’  Learn to listen to and love each other in a community of committed change.  Take a few lessons from the “radical” changers in the 1960s who touted revolution while acting like sexist jerks.  External provocation is not a substitute for internal preparation or interpersonal respect when it comes to effective change.

10) Change excellence is an evolving skill.  The line between “accepting what you cannot change” and “changing what you can” will move as you get better at the craft of change.

Conclusion

The idea of change is very attractive:  “I want to be on the cutting edge!”  The reality of change is difficult: “What? I have to transform myself and my community to make that happen?”   This dynamic is made all the more confusing by people and institutions that claim to want to change, while opposing attempts to create healthy change.

Change is not ultimately a bumper-sticker motto or a luxury.  It is the ever-present human condition.  We cannot ignore change and hope to survive.  We cannot attempt to control change (“make it do our bidding”) without making matters worse.

Why?  Because we are always changing and being changed whether we like it or not.  We may try to stand outside change either by denial or attempt to control change, but this is an illusion.  Look!  Our bodies age and we die.  That is a fact. There is no permanent and transcendent “I” outside of the change.  That falsehood is simply a fantasy of the ego.

What we can do is learn to change well, to change for the better, in conversation with each other and the world.  We can attempt to become more graceful and aware, more active and humble in our change.  We can learn to be awake to change, to live in joy, die with grace, cultivate change leadership in the younger generations, and preserve and circulate our learning about change.

It is a human craft skill.  It is a life skill.  We can no longer deny the reality of change if we are to meet the challenges of accelerating human history.  So let us commit to embracing the creative, inconvenient, and massively intriguing human adventure of change.

 Let’s start the learning and sharing now: Let me know your change story.  How did you deal with it?  What did you learn from it?

How hyper-positivity can harm your learning, your success, and your judgment

You know the typical mantras:  “Look to the horizon.  Don’t let anything stand in your way.  Be the little engine that could.  Get up and go. Get those blues and doubts right outta your head.”

What do they all imply?  All you need is positive, positive, and more positive.

They’re wrong.

No, I’m not Scrooge.  No, “bah, humbug” here.  I’m here to make your learning and performance more effective.  Hyper-positivity can harm your learning, your success, and your judgment, and here is how.

Let’s start with the sunny side mafia’s approach:  Any hole in your life, question, grief, or frustration keeps you down.  Simply let go of these and replace them (overwhelm them really) with positivity, more energy, more spunk, more effort, more intervention…

…til you succeed or crash and wonder if any of this is worth it.

Not smart.

Bright-siding

Journalist and author Barbara Ehrenreich calls this popular and sometimes dangerous myth “bright-siding.”  You see it everywhere—in schools, churches, and medicine.

“Nowhere, though, has bright-siding taken firmer root than within the business community, where… the refusal even to consider negative outcomes—like mortgage defaults—contributed directly to the current [ongoing] economic crisis.”

Especially if you try the extreme forms of “bright-siding”, I will bet that you are among a vast majority of people who are either crashing or muddling along, who feel embarrassed that this “sure-fire” attitude approach is not working and who tell almost no one about their failures and struggles.

The reason for the silence is simple.  In this approach, if your positivity doesn’t work, there is something wrong with you.  You weren’t positive enough.  You didn’t really believe.  You weren’t positive in the right way.  Or maybe you were just plain stupid or disabled or “not right for this.” Not only “what you were doing” was a failure, but “you” were a failure.  Who is going to broadcast that?

Well, you are not inadequate, stupid, disabled, or wrong.  You are misinformed. Hyper-positivity prevents you from engaging the very things you need to learn in order to succeed—the things that aren’t working.  It’s like a drug you take in higher and higher doses to mask the symptoms of some problem while failing to address the underlying root.

If you get in a war between your will and underlying reality, reality will win.  The secret is not to cover over uncomfortable realities with happiness juice, but in the opposite—opening up those uncomfortable realities, frustrations, and needs, to see where they come from and see what makes them tick.  In fact, those struggles can even become opportunities.

Okay, how are we going to turn struggles into opportunities?

How does the alternative work?

I will regress for just a second and admit that relentless positivity is strongly preferable to relentless negativity.  But there is a much better option than “cynical do-nothing” or “chirpy optimist”.

How about a balanced, clear-eyed approach, concentrating not so much on your sunny attitude, but what you are doing and whether it’s working?  Learning, success, and judgment are skills.  They are not just events that happen.  They involve you, but are not solely determined by you. Yes, they do take self-knowledge, character, and commitment, what Ehrenreich calls, “existential clarity and courage.”

This alternative approach, we’ll call it “committed experimentation” accepts the value of frustration and failure in pointing the way to success.  Secondly committed experimentation evaluates 1) Effectiveness, 2) Sustainability, and 3) Value, as a way to optimize business development.

I will first show the value of frustration to developing a successful business.  Secondly, I will use the example of the U.S. housing market and my own experience in developing an online business to demonstrate how to evaluate effectiveness, sustainability, and value as skills.

The first is part is easy.  Look into any list of successful entrepreneurs, and you will find abundant examples of those who took a frustration, turned it around, and converted it into a source of profit or improvement of the world.

“At his fist startup, an e-commerce operation, Ben Milne got ‘really really pissed off about interchange fees.’ So he did something about it by starting Dwolla, a cheap way to send or receive cash online or through your phone. The company now processes between $30 and $50 million per month in transactions.” (Inc.com, “Meet the 30 under 30: Class of 2012”)

The other two elements that often drive innovation and successful entrepreneurialism are personal interest and public need.  Really, two out of three key elements to developing a successful product or service are based on some lack that you fill, a negative that you turn into a positive.

So… if you have a driving passion, experience a frustration others share, or can identify an unmet public need, you are qualified to attempt a business and to learn the skills of committed experimentation.

Committed experimentation

Effectiveness

Effectiveness means making your actions count to their maximum.  It also means ensuring that the different parts of your life and business work together well.  If you have a product launch with a malfunctioning payment button, obviously you are not being effective.

If you were to buy a house, effectiveness would be demonstrated by due diligence.  Sure, a particular house may be your “dream home,” but double checking for hidden clauses, hidden flaws, financing terms, etc., will help ensure your home is livable and within your means after the emotional rush fades.

Effectiveness would also mean that you make a clear comparison between buying and renting and decide which is a better choice depending upon your life goals and economic fundamentals (not your “positivity”).

For my budding online business, Citizen Zeus, being effective means ensuring that the opt-in box is working for email subscribers, that my pages are functioning, that my business plans and descriptions make sense, that my posts are compellingly written and addressing some kind of need in a language that the audience can relate to.

Effectiveness also means continually developing. I get feedback from my mentor, Tea, and from others, and I adjust to make my product, plan, and execution more on-target.

A lot of people list “time management” as the prime barrier to their effectiveness, but I suspect that time management is a symptom of the underlying “design management” problem.  When you have something broad-ranging and complex as an online business, you need to do more than plot out your time.  You need to design it, which is hard when you are starting out even if you have a checklist.

In order to design effectively you need to have sustainability and value in mind…

Sustainability

Where is your emotional meltdown point?  For me it’s pretty low when it comes to technical details (though I am getting better as I learn).  I really enjoy writing, creating, and analyzing, and I have little tolerance for one snag after another in getting a working website going.  I have slightly more patience for marketing experimentation and development, and I have a very high capacity and set-point for the demands of engaging clients and providing a direct service of high value.

Sustainable for me means spending more time on the content side of the business.  As a solopreneur, pride and practicality dictate that I learn the working basics of website administration and marketing and develop these skills.  But that is not where the real value lies in terms of what I offer others.  Nor is it my strength.

Sustainability also means income.  If I want to develop a decent income I need to spend the greatest time in where I provide value for others and leverage that value into getting greater help in those aspects of my business that do not produce value for others.

Doing a self-inventory and identifying where you do and do not provide value for others might make sense in developing a sustainable business.  You have to be rigorously honest.   If you are not providing enough value, you have to change something up.  Your business is not sustainable.

Let’s use the housing market example again.  It should have been easy to hone in on just a few simple indicators to confirm that housing prices were completely  unsustainable.  1) People were being issued loans for 10x their salaries instead of 3x, 2) income was flat or falling in real dollars for over a decade, 3) people were being given no-money down loans (meaning they had no real collateral), 4) housing prices had jumped percentage-wise way above even previous bubbles, 5) buying a house cost 3x per month more than what it cost to rent the same house.

And yet most people said, “Housing can only go up.”  There is that relentless hyper-positivity again getting people into serious trouble by encouraging them to confuse “dream” with sheer, irrational “fantasy.”  Ultimately, for a housing market or a business to be fundamentally sustainable, it has to align with a demanding (but character-building) process more than a warm-fuzzy thought.

Value

Value in business is relative.  Value is basically what you are willing to pay. If I asked everyone interested in starting an online business or simply a website, “How much would you be willing to pay to have an attractive, user-friendly, smoothly functioning website,” I would get vastly different answers, depending upon the person, their resources, and their intention.

A functioning website has a very high value to me.  I do the concept, design, and layout (because I am the one conceiving of the business), and I do what I can to activate the framework and template/theme, understand how to manage a dashboard, and work on details, etc.

I make a 100-200 dollars/hour in my consulting, so my stubbornness in trying to work up my email subscriber box myself, did not make sense from a value standpoint.  Tim Gary from Mindcue was able to get it formatted and functioning and upload a whole host of security features in an hour, which costs me a reasonable $75. This was well worth it:  My frustration threshold on hashing out details is low, and my price ceiling for my time is fairly high.

For most people (myself included), maximum value lies somewhere in the middle between having someone do everything for you, and doing it all yourself. You need to draw that scale out and see where you sit on it, and make decisions accordingly.

You can buy a “fully loaded” new house in the suburbs (and pay a lot for it), you could build one from scratch with your own hands, or you could find one with “good bones” in a good location that may require a little fixing up but will be in quality surroundings and have good resale value.

You could pay Jon Morrow to get you 10,000 email subscribers for your website for $10,000 dollars, you could hustle for every subscriber yourself using only free information products, or you could buy the best low-cost guides or take a couple of reasonably prices e-courses and learn how to do it.

Conclusion

There is a relationship between positivity and production.  If you generally get up from bed and feel good about yourself and your day, if you are able to affirm your path, embrace your work, and develop healthy relationships, you will do a lot better than the neighborhood sourpuss.  I can pretty much guarantee it.

The right frame of mind does matter.  However, the right frame of action probably matters more.  There are a lot of well-intended projects that go nowhere.

Getting into the right frame of mind and action is largely an individual thing.  There aren’t good blanket formulas.  For instance, I find it effective to go on a cathartic rant about how screwed up everything is as a way to get it out of my system and settle my mind on what needs to be done in place of a screwed up system.

I’ll spout off on the completely irrational and unaccountable nature of the global economy or swear under my breath at the lack of consistency and connectivity in different internet applications.  Then I get to work.

What is it that gets you best to the core of what you do?  What kinds of strategies do you use to get there?  How do you improve your effectiveness, sustainability, and value?  Leave a comment to share with the community.