Friday, November 03, 2006

Comparison As A Path to Satisfaction

The news today was, well, more of the same.

The politicians are fighting over power. The most dangerous drug in America - testosterone - is present and accounted for.

The rich are fighting over money. This week's contestants are Paul McCartney and his estranged wife who answered the question Paul asked 40 years ago -- "will you still love me when I'm 64?"

The famous are still divorcing in droves. This week it was Reese Witherspoon and her hubby, coming off Oscar highs and slamming into the wall of "it ain't working anymore" like Mr. Magoo playing Jai-alai.

New studies report that working people dislike their work and their jobs more than ever before, continuing the death spiral of employee morale that began 10 years ago. Work has become, for most, what you do so one day you don't have to do it anymore.

Sometimes I wonder whether the powerful, the rich, the famous, and even the regular folk know how good we've got it. Most don't. Otherwise the rich would figure out how much they need to maintain their opulent lifestyles and not fight over the rest. The famous would put their egos on hold long enough to understand fame might get you a good table in an upscale L.A. restaurant, but not much more. And the wage worker would figure out that the hucksters who spend billions selling him on the idea that he would be happier driving a new car every year and that he should be ashamed that his TV doesn't hang on the wall are, well, liars.

But today's real news wasn't Paul or Reese or even the desperation of the average American employee. Rather, it was the 850 million people who will go to bed tonight hungry, not because they are dieting but because they are starving. What they get most of is our pity. What they need most of is our help, and ironically, we need them. Experience leads me to believe that we would all be more satisfied if we spent more time with those who are suffering. If we each took the opportunity to see poverty and powerlessness up close and personal, the contrast would be too dramatic to wallow in self-pity or get too serious about the stock market or some silly game on television.

There are more than enough visuals to go around. The Food and Agricultural Organization reported today that the world has made "virtually no progress" in eradicating hunger over the past decade despite greater wealth. Indeed, 26 million more people were malnourished between 1995-97 and 2001-03, a dark reality when one considers the 1980s had seen a decrease of 100 million starving people. The FAO laments the "hunger-poverty trap," observing that hunger is not only a consequence of poverty but also one of its causes, because it "compromises the health and productivity of individuals and their efforts to escape poverty."

Take a moment and onsider what would the world be like if Paul, and Reese, and Joe Lunchbucket were given the "opportunity" to see poverty and powerlessness and asked to do something about it -- something more than write a check. Would there be room left for the acrimony and bitterness that is regularly spent protecting money and ego and buying gemcracks and trinkets?

I think not. And to the end of providing employees experiences they need, more employers should involve them with real victims. Perhaps it is no more than offering a day's pay to work at a battered women's clinic, an animal shelter, a school where without government sponsored lunches there would be hunger, or one of the myriad of other opportunities there are to see a world kept conveniently hidden for those who choose not to look. If employers were serious about improved morale, this is one option that takes little time or money. And, for the individual, rich or poor, such experiences help us understand that most of our worries come from forgetting the game is just a game; that our anger is nothing more than wasted moments of a fragile life fretting over that which doesn't matter; and that our forever struggle for more is a sad and ultimately doomed effort.

I recall a client a few years ago who took this advice and offered their employees a day of pay each quarter if they would work that day at a children's camp for the profoundly retarded. One particularly gruff and curmudgeonly employee left as a cynic and returned with a new appreciation for life, not just because he suddenly saw a contrast that made his own life look better, but more importantly, he discovered that satisfaction could never be found in tryng to satiate his own ever-increasing desires, but only in fulfilling others' needs. That is why he never stopped going to that camp, first on company time and then on his own. He had come to understand that he needed the children as much as they needed him.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought what you wrote this last time was terrific. The press spends so much time covering who has money, who has power, and who wants to acquire it, that we all get lost in a fog of crap values. It seems lost on people that if you have your health, food, and shelter that the rest of it is just not very important. And if you don't, we should help you.
Helping others, i.e. loving your neighbor as thyself, in fact means there is an affirmative duty to do just that. The advertising industry is about, as you properly pointed out, lying. Instead of talking about things that are important, we hear about Tom Cruise, Doogie Howser, and other dipshits from Hollywood that no one in their right mind should give a shit what they think, do, or espouse. The evangelical leaders appear to be interested in money for themselves, if not drugs and prostitutes, once again making me very leery of anyone who gets on TV, shouts about religion, and then wants a check so his ministry can continue. Unfortunately, politicians actually listen to people like Falwell, since they raise money and votes. The Congress is now bought and sold. Andrew Jackson, if alive, would draw his sword and clean out the rats nest of lobbyists and crooked Congressmen. We dwell on the idiot from Florida who wanted to bugger the pages. What a travesty, to spend anymore time on that fool from Florida in the national news.

9:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being thankful, lending a helping hand and other forms of GIVING are among life's greatest joys. As usual, I enjoy your thoughts.

3:25 PM  

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