Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Right to Folly

Several of us met recently to discuss how to help those who turn to us in times of need.

Often their needs result from their own bad decisions, which they cling to. Indeed, some folks simply leap from one bad decision to the next.

Worse, when they seek advice, they don’t accept anything we say that calls into question those decisions, or the pattern that will lead to more.

At this point in the discussion, someone introduced the term “The Right to Folly.”

I’d never heard it before. It comes down to this: Do we have an inalienable right to be fools? And as helpers, are we obliged to grant someone that “Right to Folly”?

As Americans do we hold folly as an unspoken self-evident truth? Could it be that right up there with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the “right to folly”?

There’s something appealing about the notion. Kings and courts all recognized the need for a fool.

The difference, of course, is that the fool recognized himself as the fool. Jesters tapped into the wisdom of being laughably different from the questionable norm.

Not so with the kind of destructive foolishness we were talking about at our meeting.

Still, if we could laugh about folly and our "right" to it, we might gain perspective.

I have to confess that the more I learn about the strange responsibilities age and experience cast upon me, the more I laugh — perhaps like a fool. An old fool.

Our planetary plight would be laughable if the costs weren’t so high. Only fools would hate each other. Only fools would kill each other. Only fools would live in a way that threatens all life.

And who among us has not played the fool?

Why do we tolerate our “Right to Folly”?

Perhaps we need to clear the air with a good “righteous” laugh about our folly before we can progress. “The Right to Folly” is true, funny and tragic. A laughable paradox.

Only after we absolve ourselves with laughter at our foolishness will we fully feel the folly of our ways and begin our transformation.

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Wednesday, October 28, 2009

A just society as executive compensation

Tuesday, New York Times columnist David Brooks attacked the Obama administration for placing limits on executive compensation.

He called the effort a “fatal conceit” that is doomed to failure.

Brooks, and most who address this madness, overlook a key fact.

If lining their own pockets drives executives to their decisions, it stands to reason that the corporate decisions will be based on how much the executives can game the system to reward themselves.

The result: decisions that feed executive greed and to hell with the rest of us. We’ve seen plenty of those kinds of decisions recently. Hence the response of the Obama administration.

If there’s a problem with the government’s approach, it’s that it ignores the bankrupt values that drive the system.

We need leadership that makes decisions not for personal gain but for societal good.

By “good” I mean paying a living wage, offering meaningful work, providing universal health care, protecting the environment, providing affordable housing, maintaining justice and security, and educating children and adults alike.

Those are the rewards of leadership. Not vacation chalets in Aspen, yachts in Barbados, mansions in Scarsdale, private jets at the ready, country clubs, penthouses and jewels.

And certainly not compensation that is 500 times that of the average worker.

No, the rewards for the powerful should be nothing more than this: a modest, adequate salary with basic benefits and the knowledge that one’s leadership has helped create of a better, more just, sustainable society.

Ultimately, it comes down to a question of values. Talk about fatal conceit. What do our corporate leaders believe in? Themselves and their personal wealth or humanity and the future of the planet?

The government must come up with a way to ensure that the latter, not the former, values prevail.

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Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Should we say "what everyone is thinking"?

On an impulse a few weeks ago I bought a lapel button that reads:

“Say the thing that everyone is thinking.”

But after thinking about the message, I decided not to wear the button.

I still have it because I am weighing its command. There’s certainly truth in its words. The implied message is that all those thoughts that “everyone is thinking” haven’t been articulated and put into general, accessible, circulation.

The button wants us to get on with it. Speak already!

It’s akin to the idea of speaking truth to power.

We’ve all had that experience of reading or hearing something and reacting with “Exactly! I was thinking the same thing myself!” Now, at last, you have the words you need to pass on the thought.

So why am I reluctant to wear the button?

As important as the message is, there’s an assumption that everyone is, in fact, thinking important unspoken thoughts, and, even more questionable, that everyone is thinking the same thing.

“Everyone” is a big word that can get us in trouble.

Besides, I believe it is more important to say what everyone (else) is not thinking. We need new thinking. We need thoughts never thought before. The old ones, whether articulated or not, seem to have put us in a heap of trouble.

Finally, there’s the notion that “thinking” is the end all. Before (and after) we think, we should feel. I've concluded in my advanced years that deeper truths reside in feeling.

I doubt I would wear a button that reads “Say the thing that everyone is FEELING” because, again, not everyone is feeling the same thing.

We should say what we feel — and think — whether others are feeling and thinking it or not.

That’s pretty much what I hope I've done here.

The lapel button comes later. . . .

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Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Gift from Above

Several of us spent much of yesterday, a glorious autumn Saturday, indoors at our Quaker meeting house.

Our topic was "Helping in Times of Need and Stress."

The skylight in our meeting room framed and projected the day's beauty into our midst.

The big window quietly helped us as we turned our thoughts to helping others.

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