Friday, March 19, 2010

Real Change: The Opportunity of Trash

How tired are you of hearing about positive change that never seems to come to pass?

Year after year, election after election, we have candidates that campaign on the promise of change; change for a better future for ourselves and our children. It doesn't matter if it's on the local or national level, they all promise change.

Of course, it's natural, because most everyone knows that the world is far from perfect and therefore we all want change and a cleaner, better future; not just for ourselves, but for posterity. Unfortunately, many times the change either never comes, or it takes some form that we never hoped for. Higher taxes have been a regular feature for all of us as Americans. Even when they give us a tax break with one hand, they take it away through hidden taxes elsewhere; or less benefits, having to work to an older retirement age, or new programs that cause gas and utility prices to rise, so we all have less than we did before. It seems like the only solution is to keep making more and more money. So Americans who used to be able to live an ample life through the efforts of the man of the house, gradually sent most of their wives out to work, in the hope of catching a better life.

On the whole, they were successful, and the hard-working wives buoyed up our commodity-based society's economy, and over a period of about fifty years many Americans went from living in modest homes or apartments and riding public transportation, to owning multiple cars, multiple color TV's, boats, recreational vehicles, and more house than many of them could have ever dreamed of owning on a single salary. Taxes went higher and higher, and the basic necessities followed along with them, and soon, two salaries seemed like a basic necessity in many homes.

Technology advanced and the internet age began, and soon there were many more things that everyone just had to have, like computers and laptops, cellphones and video games, more and more, all the time, until America was finally at a net negative savings rate. So they pulled equity from their mortgaged homes, and started working multiple jobs and ran up credit cards, piling up debt that weighed heavier and heavier on their house of cards.

Some, played it safe and conservative, and didn't overspend, but they were still penalized as prices rose higher and higher, and property taxes followed the housing markets higher. Tough luck for the financially conservative who lived a more frugal lifestyle. They still saw the squeeze on their wallets. Only those lucky enough to be in the stock market saw real dollar gains in their savings.

Then came the millennium: POOF! The Internet bubble burst and the best part of the ride was over. So the Fed kept the money loose and the president instituted temporary tax breaks to stimulate the economy and things were soon off to the races again, and this time there were even bigger gains in the housing market, as people were encouraged to buy homes that were beyond their wildest dreams of ever being able to afford previously. Fast forward to 2008: SHOCK! A world credit crisis hit as the reality of bundled packages of bogus-rated mortgages became exposed. Months of agony followed as people saw their savings in the stock market go lower and lower and lower, many stocks losing over 90% of their value, or becoming worthless as companies went bankrupt.

But again the government stepped in, this time in a bigger way than ever, trying to re-inflate that which seemed not inflatable, and as banksters reinvested in the markets with government funds, the markets responded, finally rising back to a level where all the insurance companies would not be forced into bankruptcy from a lack of liquidity.

Along the way, a new face stepped out of the crowd and promised CHANGE, and under the circumstances, with the world seemingly on the brink of implosion, even many doubters threw their vote towards him. And why not, since there really didn't seem to be much hope elsewhere?

Now it really gets tough. After two consecutive bubbles that seemed to burst, and national debt being piled higher than ever before, the new hope for change, is about to run smack into reality.

I'm not a soothsayer, so I won't even attempt to predict the future, but I will say this: You are the change and the future. You always have been. For only you can choose your own steps; how you spend your money; what you choose to spend it on; who you vote for. Oh that's too easy, I know, it can't work, but I will prove it to you in a small way, if you just play along with me.

I live in the community of Curtis Bay at the southern tip of Baltimore. It's an interesting area, plagued with some of the problems of many areas, not the least of which is apathy by some of its residents, but it's also a great little community, where strangers will come up to you on the street, and just start talking to you about some movie they just saw, as if they know you. It takes a little getting used to when you move here from some place where people aren't as open.

There's a dichotomy here (like everywhere in the universe) of good and bad, but there's also a specter of positive change that is playing itself out in the form of a few local people with energy and hope, who are making a difference for many others without them even being aware of it. I see these same few people giving their free time to go to community meetings and community clean-ups and helping out at community movie fests and environmental-fests, and dozens of other projects that make the community better. It's very inspiring to watch them, and even better to be able to call them my friends.

Now, here's how you can prove to yourself that you are the change in the world, and that it can be immediate. Choose a place of your own liking and look around at the streets there. Hopefully, it will be a less than perfect place, and you can see some small pieces of trash or litter in the street or gutter. If you are lucky enough to be in such a place, pick up whatever trash or litter that you see in front of you and dispose of it. Congratulations, you just made a positive change in your world, by bringing order to chaos. Every time you see a piece of trash or litter in your environment, do the same thing. Don't feel shy or feel badly because you are doing something that someone else perhaps should have done. If you have a certain spot or street or corner of your campus that you frequent, make this a habit.

Soon you will enjoy the order that you know you can bring to that small section of the universe. It doesn't matter that others might, in a short time, return the scene to chaos, all that matters is that you have proven to yourself that you can effect positive change in the world. And of course, it needn't stop there. Because by setting an example, you might be surprised to find that others who see you, then start to do the same thing in their small section of the universe.

This process extends itself rapidly like a fractal, repeating, only not just with trash and litter, but with personal responsibility that starts to grow everywhere you go. Suddenly, you find yourself empowered, effecting change where you might never have even considered to try before.

Picking up trash is a golden opportunity, and it's real change in the world that you can see. It's tangible and meaningful, and it extends itself furtively into many other areas of your life. You are the change the world needs; you are the best hope of the world. You needn't search for some charismatic leader; you are what the world needs to better itself.

Do it. Do it now.

And if you ever happen to ride through Curtis Bay and see someone picking up litter, smile and wave, it just might be me.

No comments: