Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Making 'conscience' and 'consciousness' one

Some words in pairs invite joint consideration because they are so close in appearance and because they so strongly suggest new meanings by their proximate definitions.

“Experience” and “experiment,” “myth” “and “mystic” are two such pairs.

The other day I found myself meditating on the attraction between “conscience” and “consciousness.”

I felt an almost magnetic pull, but when “conscience” and “consciousness” neared, the polarity seemed to reverse, reach stasis and freeze their meanings in respectful, yet unfulfilled, proximity.

In the palpable space between “conscience” and “consciousness” emerged a new meaning. No word I know signifies that meaning (suggestions are welcomed!), but if you hold “conscience” and “consciousness” together simultaneously, you can feel it.

A power emerges between the two.

Out of my consideration came a notion that took the form of two questions:
Can we be fully conscious if our conscience hasn’t been engaged?

Can our conscience be fully engaged if we are not fully conscious?

“Conscience” and “consciousness” in full rely on each other.

Of course “fully” is impossible because there is always more. We are evolving as individuals and as a species. Our conscience and our consciousness are growing.  All existence is dynamic.

As a result of my meditation, I am certain growth of consciousness is informed by conscience; and the growth of conscience relies on a widening and deepening consciousness.

Perhaps conscience and consciousness are kept separate because they are represented by distinct words. Without a word that defines their attraction and, yes, their oneness, are we doomed to keeping them apart?

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Neediest and The Greediest

Earlier this week a friend drew my attention to a New York Times Sunday edition story about the results of the paper’s end-of-the-year “Neediest Cases Fund” drive.

The friend’s adult child had a hand in raising $77,000 at her place of employment, the financial giant Citigroup.

The entire, laudable Times campaign effort raised nearly $6 million for the “neediest” in the New York City. The Times story, in addition to devoting four paragraphs to Citigroup’s contribution, detailed the plight of several served by the fund.

It happens that I read this heart-warming story just as I’ve been reading “The Price of Inequity,” by Joseph Stiglitz. It’s a book that sensitizes the reader to the underlying causes of poverty in our society. Among those causes is the political and financial clout of organizations like Citigroup.

So with Stiglitz's book and inequity on my mind, I thought that it might be instructive and add perspective to see what the CEO of Citigroup makes in a year.

Turns out in 2012, the last year for which figures are available, CEO Michael Corbat was compensated to the tune of $11.5 million. I think it fair to assume, given the bloated nature of executive compensation, that last year he topped $12 million (we'll know in the next few days).

Now go back to that the Neediest Cases Fund TOTAL of nearly $6 million. It is about half Corbat's entire compensation for one year. Makes one wonder that Corbat contributed to Citigroup’s $77,000.

Interestingly, the Times story didn’t include the comparison of Corbat’s compensation with Citigroup’s "Neediest" contribution or with the total amount of money raise by the Times campaign. (Could the omission have something to do with what top executives at the Times make?)

Such comparisons would provide insight into why the pressing needs of this nation’s neediest are going unmet,  and why the Times effort, as worthy as it is, represents a token effort. The real solution lies in addressing inequity, greed and concentrated political power, as Stiglitz points out.

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Parable of the Turnbuckle

Last weekend I joined Santa Barbara Quakers in worship. Before settling into the silence, I gazed around the meeting room with its gracefully arching windows and two skylights. As my eyes swept across the ceiling, they rested on two parallel stay cables poking out of the ceiling. Each had been tightened by its own turnbuckle.

The modest fixtures were essential to holding the building together.

I stopped to ponder the turnbuckles to consider just how they did their job.

Because Quaker meetings often are trying to shore up this or that, I sought to apply to Friends the simple mechanics of the turnbuckle.

The key to the operation of a turnbuckle is that it is tightened by rotating a collar that is threaded on both ends to fit attached threaded screws, which are, in turn, hooked to the cables.

The telling point is this: the threads at one end go in the REVERSE direction as those on the other.

Without the reversal, the turnbuckle wouldn’t pull inward to tighten the cables. Of course the collar needs to be turned in the “right” direction. Turning it the other way loosens the cables.

Friends are notoriously, but thankfully, “threaded” in opposite directions (MANY opposite directions!). If we were all threaded the same way, neither tightening (nor loosening) would happen. We’d just unscrew ourselves, as it were.

So, like the turnbuckle, we are stronger for our “oppositional” threading, just as long as we learn to agree which way to twist our collars.

Sometimes learning requires loosening first before we discover which way to turn to make ourselves stronger, but in the end, together, we get it right.

All of which may sound familiar to those familiar with the old hymn "Simple Gifts"...

"...To turn, turn 'twill be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come round right."

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

CEO Salaries: Getting what you pay for?

In our consumerist society there’s a saying that you get what you pay for. The assumption is that the more you pay for something, the more quality you get. A corollary is “the more you pay, the more you get.”

Recently, as I was pondering what CEOs are paid, I found myself applying the saying “you get what you pay for” to other worldly executive pay packages.

The latest jaw-dropper brought to my attention is Stephen Hemsley, CEO of United Health Care, who in 2013 made a cool $106 million. But the CEO roll call of infamy is long – very long.

So is United Health Care getting what it’s paying for. Is it getting what it wants or needs? Are its customers and providers benefitting?

Here’s what United Health Care is getting: a dispirited work force, terrible PR and a self-centered, morally blind leader who seems to be (or is) driven by greed and egoism.

The argument goes that CEOs are paid what the executive salary market will bear and the salary market decides what they are “worth.” Leave the market to do its work, we are told.

Let’s assume this simplistic analysis is correct that the market is “fair” and that the system isn’t rigged by similarly high-priced “salary consultants” beholden to the people paying them.

So the “free” salary market rules.

Should it?

Not if we take into account other “markets” which ought to have a say in the “ruling.”

Pay attention boards of directors, stockholders (institutional and individual) and elected officials.

One “market” growing in importance is the “social justice market” also known as the “gross inequity” market. Others, as already suggested, are the public relations market and the “fair corporate culture market.”

There are others such as the “highest and best use” market. What is the highest and best use, for instance, of Mr. Hemsley’s $106 million?

Dare we suggest that it’s clearly not Mr. Hemsley?

Somehow these markets need to be welded together so that obscene CEO salaries will not, indeed, can not, happen.

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