Thursday, February 19, 2009

Doing the Best You Can (With What You Already Have)

For those to whom “More” has always been the driving force in their lives, these may seem like difficult times, but for those whose guiding principles in life have been “Enough,” these are times like any other -- they just do the best they can with what they presently, and already, have, and so are way ahead of the crowd in this respect.

Unfortunately, that’s not one of the habits that have been cultivated in the Islands, where “More,” is the only mantra they learn from grade school -- usually led by the teachers and their union. So in times when there isn’t any “more,” they just think there is nothing they can do but wait for the more to be funneled home from the federal government in DC, instead of finding out ways to do better with what they already have -- which creates more, without demanding more.

While an important principle in government and economy, it is even more so in personal lives, by which it becomes the major difference between those constantly demanding more, and those who feel they always have enough, and whatever they have, is what they have to realistically work and deal with and so can become quickly, properly and effectively focused. Thus, they are not to be found complaining as their first, and usually only course of “action,” but quickly recommit themselves on how to make what they have better, and even more.

Despite the current recession, this is not a country and land of scarcity, and in fact, the current problem is not the scarcity of goods and services but rather the overabundance of them -- but the challenge as always, is how to better distribute them to those who could value them more properly -- instead of to those who merely take everything for granted.

So the pictures we see of those suffering the most famously in the current reversal of fortunes, is not of the most chronically unfortunate and deprived, but rather, how those who were well on their way to lifetime security, experienced a disruption to a retirement of endless vacationing and fulfillment of their every fantasies -- which they had come to regard as their new entitlements.

That’s not to say that the chronically poor are not affected by the rippling effect of layoffs and business closures, but for them, this is more like business as usual in which some may even have an advantage because they are used to having to make the best of whatever they have. They are also not threatened by the possibility that things could get worse.

They are used to taking each day at a time, and making the best of whatever they have -- and that’s what gets them through the worst of times, and also serves them equally well in the best of times.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Do We Really Have a Problem?

Or is what is happening right now, the solution for the ills of the past? Overlooked in the growing unemployment “problem,” is that many of those jobs lost, were for doing things we no longer needed doing, or were responsible for the egregious excesses of the past -- like rampant real estate speculation and land development, thoughtless overconsumption of fuel and energy, conspicuous consumption -- while fundamental societal problems and needs were overlooked.

None of that real estate development went to addressing the homelessness problem and the unaffordability of housing for people working just to survive from day to day. The people finally wiped out were those speculating and leveraging on such deals as though they thought they would never end -- because they had been so successful up to now. That’s usually how speculative bubbles work -- and finally end. And at the end, nobody thinks it can end that way.

That’s where most of the jobs have been lost -- in the financing of those excesses, while the “average” person, has been more minimally affected, because people are still paying their utility bills to ensure they get by adequately from day to day.

When a bubble bursts, the temptation is to think it will re-inflate as quickly as it did before, rather than that the money now rotates to other areas of genuine need -- at first, which in time, because of its success, also becomes the next bubble, and so on. These undervaluations and then overvaluations until outrageous excesses are not a pattern likely to end -- but a few, will probably get good at riding the waves.

These are the investors of the new future -- or maybe it is proper to say, the emerging citizens of the future, who will be more prone to understanding these things, and perceiving them as they are developing and happen -- rather than being the last person to know, and finally to be left “holding the bag,” wondering where everybody else has gone, when they have finally arrived triumphantly at the party.

In life and in finances, there is no “finally,” and therefore, one lives from day to day, doing the best they can, at any time -- and that strategy works regardless of whether times are good or bad, and can move with that flow and follow the money. Otherwise, one is left hoping against hope that the good times will once again roll in the way one was used to seeing it, not realizing those times have passed them by, and that one has to live in the present realities, and not think they can simply do better, if what they know now, is what they should have known before -- and in that way, is always out of synch with the times, and a step behind, recreating and reliving the past -- as though that was the most meaningful and productive thing one could be doing at any time.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Survival of the Fitness

It is times like these that are a test of how well we have prepared ourselves in life -- for life, that gives real meaning to the term, “fitness.” Fitness for what? one should logically ask. Fitness is that test of how well our preparations will serve us for the challenges of both the good and the bad times -- as that is what the headlines are saying about the present times -- that it is the worst it’s been in the last ten years.

It is easy to overlook that in that intervening time, the economy of Hawaii and the world, went from that low to unprecedented highs -- and back, so we ask, are we better off than we were ten years ago, and have we learned anything (progressed) in that time, or does history simply repeat itself, without moving toward some greater sense of purpose and meaning?

It’s good not to have George Bush around anymore to blame everything on -- no matter how good things were -- and now, are. Countless hours and energies were wasted in that manner -- and many perfected those behaviors as though they had real value to their supporting culture and society, which are more clearly revealed as the dead-ends and counterproductive activities they were in his absence. A generation was lost and consumed in cultivating and rewarding that hatred and dysfunctional way of being.

So even as a “Republican,” (which I have been only by denying that designation), I was very glad to see President Bush move off of the stage, despite his having done much good to lead the world through unprecedented good times and prosperity -- because those material achievements are not enough in themselves. The world has to be psychologically prepared to experience those good times and to properly appreciate them -- for it to be any good, to do them any good and justice, otherwise, all of that is quickly lost again, but one has only the memory of having once been there and knowing that it is now possible -- to savor the next time it comes around and we can rightfully recognize it for what it is.

When the unemployment rate is 5-10%, obviously many more are still employed and marginally affected by the financial shifts of the present time. People no longer complain loudly about prices ratcheting up continuously, but buy them uncomplainingly now, and are happy that they can.

That is the funny thing about prosperity, success, affluence -- that so very few can appreciate while virtually everyone has it, but when it becomes scarcer, then a few more are grateful for what they no longer have.

Hawaii seems to be a better place when it is not so affluent, prosperous and successful, because it hasn’t learned to appreciate and manage it well, but actually seems to flourish when times are more difficult and marginal. That is its culture and mindset (mentality) -- that it evolved in that struggle for survival, and clings to no matter what the underlying realities are -- as a state of mind and comfort zone.

It prepares itself for the hard times of scarcity, and will waste any prosperity and good fortune, and always come full circle in that manner. If times are too good, they find somebody to blame that it isn’t. Then, when the times are not so generous anymore, they have nobody to blame but themselves, and can go about their own business, and take care of business -- in the way not possible if times and circumstances are too good.

In this sense, history repeats itself.