Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's raining opportunity

Did you spend an hour in the dark on March 28th? Good for you! If you didn't, why not? I know -- March Madness.

It seems like we live in a constant state of 'madness' these days. At the library where I work, it is weeding time. Each librarian is taking a section and withdrawing books that have gotten little or no use or are in such bad shape they can not be repaired. Those still in decent shape will be given to The Friends of the Library organization to sell at their bookstore. The money they earn is used to support the library. Our budget has been cut, fines raised and the time the library is available to the public has been cut. The county is gearing up to make a second wave of layoffs. No one knows who will be left or what will be left of the library afterwards. We are competing with fire departments and street cleaners. At times like these people forget the importance of books and learning and Carnegie's concept of free access to knowledge for EVERYONE! We give up that and we've lost our future.

But, back to the weeding. The 332 section or the financial section of the Dewey Decimal cataloging system are so out of step with today's reality that the librarian sees no reason to save a single book. Suzie Orman and the whole group of know-it-all financial investment gurus -- in the trash. What we thought was a good plan ten years ago -- not such a good plan. Perhaps my parents -- products of the Great Depression -- had it right: live within their means which means they don't buy unless they have cash in hand. And save a portion of their income. For them it was a bank savings account and savings bonds. Of course those of us who set side a portion of our income for investment through our company savings plan found that investments can quickly turn from accumulation of wealth to disappearance of retirement and nest egg stashes. Money is such a problem. Or is it the money?

Have you noticed that often the truth comes out in a simple cast-off comment?

A friend told of seeing a middle school group walking past an exhibit on the Washington Mall in D.C. The exhibit featured an American reservist who had served in Iraq, an Iraqi man who had lived and experienced much of the war in his home country, and a burned out car from one of the many bombings. The young people did not want to engage in conversation with the two, but one young man, as they passed the exhibit called back, "I'll give you $3 for that car."

Is everything about dollars and buying to Americans? Did he know that people could have died inside of that car? Did he care about what the car represented or symbolized? Did he want to live in ignorance, passing up a chance to understand or at least hear what these two people had to offer? Or maybe he just was late for the next stop on their vacation itinerary.

But it seems like the first thing we think about is buying our way out of something rather than working on our attitudes and our individual contributions to the problem as well as the solution.

This is our opportunity for change. REAL CHANGE!

Rather than listening to our government talk about getting consumers spending again, refilling the coffers so we can borrow and have credit lines again -- maybe we need to think about how we can improve our lifestyle and replace the concept of accumulation of wealth (keeping up with the Jones) and image, with better ways to use our wealth to improve our country and quality of life for all. Maybe a change in thinking about our civic duty. Change the focus from why our government isn't doing a better job with FEMA responses. Why the Red Cross isn't taking care of everyone, why some other organization doesn't feed the homeless. And instead, we should look at our individual offerings. It is time to step out into the world to make a difference.

During the Great Depression my grandmother was known as a great pie baker. She was known to the legion of men and women and children who lived like hobos and tramped the roads looking for a job or food or hope. She did what she could with what she had, never putting her burdens on those in need. When foreclosure took the family farm though, no one was there to help her.

Did you ever think you would see refugee camps in the United States? I never thought I would see homeless on the streets -- now they are just faceless, nameless parts of the landscape. What can we do?

As far as being good consumers -- yes, we need to continue to shop. But not the mindless spur of the moment mall orgies. Make reasoned within-our-means purchases. With our tax refund in hand we're using it to purchase a couple of items we've been putting off acquiring for awhile. Maybe there are a couple things you could invest in now rather than later. Hopefully it is American made, but other countries need our help, too. I heard today that the American shopper is what is holding the world economy together. Alot of pressure. It gives new meaning to that popular adage: "When the going gets tough -- the tough go shopping."

We absolutely need to find our moral compass, our integrity. It is time to grow up and act with maturity, no longer spoiled teenagers squandering our allowance on fads, fast food or Playboy magazines. Or offering $3 for a burned out car.

No comments: