Friday, January 27, 2012

When in Danger, Worry, Doubt...

"When in danger, worry, doubt
Run in circlesscream and shout!"

As a nation, we are addicted to disaster.  More than knowledge of the latest stupid celebrity tricks, we crave stories of bad things happening across the street and around the world.   A time honored principle of journalism is "If it bleeds, it leads."  

Not only do we crave stories of bad things, we crave stories of the threat of bad things. 

We crave stores of danger. The headlines proclaim "Bus-sized asteroid narrowly misses Earth!" and we feel endangered.  "Experts predict major earthquake will rock the mid-west in the next 25 years" (Oh no! We're all going to die!  Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!) 

We crave stories that cause worry.  Hearing that the "Fed Chairman predicts unemployment to remain above 8% through 2013" worries us.  Will we remain employed?  "Medical costs outpace insurance reimbursement".  Will we be able to get the care we need when we need it? "Global economy shows signs of collapse." "Galloping hyperinflation on the way" and my personal favorite "Americans worried. No Longer Optimistic for the Future."  How will we continue to exist? Abandon hope, all ye who are stuck living here!

We crave stories that cause us to doubt.  Some candidate "dabbled in witchcraft". Another "once subscribed to a publication that could be described as racist."  A prominent person "was seen with a woman who was not his wife."  Is there no one with integrity and a pure record?  There isn't, but that doesn't stop us from expecting one.

Stories of danger, worry, and doubt appeal to us on an emotional level. And, if we react on an emotional level and succumb to the strong feelings they give rise to, we will panic and, in all likelihood, end up either running in circles, screaming and shouting or cowering inside a darkened room.  And we will make a terrible mess of things.

So, what's the alternative, other than burying our heads in the sand? How do we overcome the urge to panic in the face danger, worry, and doubt?  How do we replace raw emotion with a considered response? 

First, we need to identify the dangers and things that cause us worry or doubt and answer some questions.  

Is that which I fear a real threat to me? The Japanese Tsunami and subsequent radiation leak is real, but no immediate threat to me. I need not worry and can go about my business.

How likely is that which I fear?  In the event of a nuclear attack on our nation's capital, I can quite literally become toast.  However, I judge such an attack unlikely and can continue to live where I am and go about my business without worry.

Is there any way to prevent that which I fear?  What prudent measures can I take to prevent it?  I can't prevent weather related disasters, but I can do a lot to prevent a house fire.

If that which I fear comes to pass, what is the worst thing that can happen?  How do I plan to deal with it?  What do I do first? And what do I do next, and so forth?

In other words, "When in danger, worry, doubt, Have a plan and pull it out!"

What do you fear and worry about?

What is your plan to deal with it?


Friday, January 20, 2012

Living the Dream

Recently, I find myself confronted with a wealth of blog posts, articles, news and public opinion stories bemoaning the demise of the middle class and the American Dream.

I disagree.

The increase in "woe is us" rhetoric may be due to the fact that the nation is facing an election year in a down economy. Politicians and their allies in the media excel at painting a gloomy picture that only they can change if only we would elect them.

What rubbish.

As hard as politicians and the media seek to limit our understanding and convince us otherwise, both the middle class and the American Dream remain alive.  Middle class is more than income and assets, and the American Dream more than a house with a white picket fence.  More than anything, middle class is values and beliefs, the chief of which are independence, self reliance, and the right of the individual to achieve and to fail. These values are a legacy from our pioneer forefathers who lived them and, as a result, built a nation.

The American Dream is to achieve; to have, hold, and enjoy the rewards of that achievement.  If one is to succeed, one must also be allowed to fail.  Inherent to any achievement is the potential to fail and a responsibility to bear the cost of failure and to start over.

To fall out of the middle class is not to fail at meeting some arbitrarily set standard of income but to abandon one's independence, self reliance, and hope.  To give up independence is to become dependent.  To give up self reliance is to rely on others.  And to give up hope to accept hopelessness.

To fall out of the middle class is to trade liberty for slavery. And I will be no man's slave.

Do you want to be independent?

Will you rely on yourself for your hope and your future?

Will you to work to achieve that future and that hope?

Will you bear the costs of any failure, pick up the pieces, and try again?

If so, then welcome to the middle class!

Now, go live your dream.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Borrowing Joy

Did you ever notice that it's a lot harder to imagine wild success than to fear dismal failure?

Did you ever realize that most of our "what ifs" concern how we will react to things that go wrong rather than how we'll deal with things that go right?

Have you ever met someone who, like Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, always sees a dark cloud behind every silver lining; who, when greeted with "Good morning!" responds with "If it doesn't rain"?

I've met people like Eeyore, people who, however hopeful the circumstances or positive the occasion, can always name at least one possible chain of events that's sure to spoil everything.  Rather than enjoying the moment, these people get a perverse enjoyment from hanging on to negative possibilities with all of the tenacity of a dog gnawing a well-loved bone.  In so doing, they usually make themselves and those around them miserable.

My mother called such thoughts and attitudes "borrowing trouble." When she heard one of her children indulging in them, her response was "Don't borrow trouble.  You already have more than enough without it."

A wise woman, my mother.  Rather than borrowing trouble, mother encouraged us to borrow joy!

Borrow joy?  Is it even possible?

I know that it is.

I have met more than a few people who embody the concept.  These people sparkle in their approach to life and reaction to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.  When greeted with "Good morning", they are as apt as not to reply "And getting better all the time!" or "And one helluva fine morning it is!" After greeting them, you realize that it really is one helluva fine morning and getting better all the time.

The strange thing is that, far from having experienced an easier life or better circumstances than the Eeyore's, these individuals have most often experienced much the same and even worse.  Yet even in the most adverse circumstances, rather than "borrowing trouble" they are able, from some internal reservoir, to borrow hope and joy!

It is written that you get what you borrow.  Borrow trouble, and you get it.  Borrow hope and you get it.  Borrow joy and you get that too.  It's entirely up to you.

What will you borrow in 2012?

Is what you're borrowing something you really want to have?

The choice is yours.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Solving World Hunger

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year is filled with good will and charity to all.  During this time of the year, people step out of their way to make life easier for those less fortunate.  National charities mount successful funding appeals.  Businesses donate food and clothing.  Thousands and millions of volunteers buy gifts and pack and deliver food baskets to feed the hungry.  And then, with the coming of the new year, the wave of good-will breaks.  Charity stops and cold and hunger continue unabated until the next Thanksgiving.

This should not be.

Hunger, specifically world hunger, is generally recognized as the perennially unsolvable problem and solving world hunger has come to represent any attempt to do the impossible.  Seemingly insurmountable difficulties are acknowledged with statements like "We can't solve world hunger" or dismissed with the statement "We're not trying to solve world hunger." 

I disagree.  We can solve world hunger.  We solve world hunger the same way we would eat an elephant -- one bite at a time, or one meal at a time for one person or one family at a time. 

Organizations -- local food banks, the national and international feeding organizations are in place to  do this.  All that is left is to regularly support them.

Here's one way to do it:

Count the loose change in your pocket or purse. Change is usually not counted. Change is considered extra.

Use the change or an equivalent amount to buy food on your next trip to the grocery store.  Fifty cents is a can of green beans or a pack of ramen noodles.  A dollar may be a can of tuna fish, a pound of pasta, or a bottle of of sauce.  Two or three dollars may provide a basic meal.

Donate the food that your pocket change has purchased to your local food bank and you have started to solve world hunger.  Do it regularly -- each time you shop for food.  Make a difference.

This year, I plan to solve world hunger -- one can, one purchase, one meal at a time  -- by buying a single additional item each time I visit the grocery and donating that item to my local food bank.

Will you join me?