Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Monday, March 19, 2007
I promised something positive this week and here it is: there is a solution to the consumerism trap! Most of us, most of the time don't need to live beyond our means and, if we want to, we can be truly generous - with our time, our stuff, our talents. How? It's simple, really. Rather than allow the media to dictate our desires, we need to think about what is really important to us and then set a budget that reflects our values. Or, if you don't like budgets, just change your heart (but believe me, it will be easier not to "cheat" if you commit to a budget!). The first step in this process is to realize that big companies pay big bucks to advertise their products and plant the idea in our minds that our lives would be better (so much better) if we could just figure out a way to own their product. Do they think we're STUPID? Well, actually - they do and not for no reason (not to be negative but remember that we are citizens of the country that is $752 billion dollars in debt for "stuff", much of which we don't need!). So, knowing this, we can begin to match cunning with cunning. We can look at advertising with a skeptical eye and gradually train ourselves to resist the lure. Really, how many times do we need to say to ourselves, "it's not really making my life better" or "it wasn't as good a buy as I thought" or "I really didn't need it but I just couldn't resist"?
I heard a story on CBC radio a few months ago about a neat elderly couple. They're multi-millionaires, but had decided that they could live comfortably on $30,000 a year. So, they kept $30,000 for themselves and gave the rest of their investment income away! Notice that they didn't start with a commitment to give 10% to charity. They evaluated their needs, kept what they needed for themselves (to live comfortably but not wastefully or extravagantly) and they just gave the rest away. They spent their days meeting with people who needed money for various projects and they donated - $1000 here, $100,000 there - all for projects that they felt would help other people.
I've thought about that couple a lot over the last few months. They're an inspiration for me and I don't even remember their names or where they live. I just know that I love what they're doing. For me, it's all about living simply, giving generously and practicing hospitality. I can't help wondering what the world would look like if this model were to catch on. It won't be easy - we need to learn how to stare down our greed, but if they can do it, maybe I can do it too. And maybe you can too!
Monday, March 12, 2007
Monday, March 05, 2007
- 152 billion dollars
- 352 billion dollars
- 552 billion dollars
- 752 billion dollars
Just so you understand the question: collective consumer debt is the total amount of money that Canadians owe for consumer products including things like mortgages, car payments, credit card debt, bank loans, student loans, etc. That is, money we owe for products and services we are already enjoying but haven't yet paid for. Put another way, it is a tangible measure of the extent to which we Canadians are living beyond our means.
The answer: 752 billion dollars ($752,000,000,000). While we're doing the math, that's a debt load for every man, woman and child in Canada of about $24,258! If you don't believe me, check out the Mclean's magazine article (Canadians' Personal Debt at Historic Levels) at http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.com/index.cfm?PgNm=TCE&Params=M1ARTM0012689.
So - we live in one of the most affluent countries in the world and we're still living over $750 billion dollars beyond our means. At least that's the conclusion I draw. And, you probably know what I'm going to say next - here's the other side of the coin:
- Half the world — nearly three billion people — live on less than two dollars a day.
- The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the poorest 48 nations (i.e. a quarter of the world’s countries) is less than the wealth of the world’s three richest people combined.
- Nearly a billion people entered the 21st century unable to read a book or sign their names.
- Less than one per cent of what the world spent every year on weapons was needed to put every child into school by the year 2000 and yet it didn't happen.
- 20% of the population in the developed nations, consume 86% of the world’s goods.
These stats are all from http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Facts.asp and there are lots more depressing stats there if you have the stomach for them!
Are we like the frog in the kettle (in case you don't know that analogy, they say you can put a frog in a pot of water and put it on the stove and bring it to a boil and the frog won't jump out because he gradually adjusts to the change in water temperature - no need to try it but you get the idea!)
How have we allowed this to happen? And, for those of us who call ourselves Christians, how are we going to explain this when we're called to give an account? When is enough, enough? When will we realize that our ever improving standard of living is NOT a good thing? At least it isn't if we're at all concerned for the plight of our neighbors in low income countries. And what about our own kids and grandchildren? I heard recently that the practice in traditional native communities is to consider the impact of any decision for seven generations down the line!
I've heard that if the whole world were to live as we do in North America, we would need four or five planet earths. From where I sit, my guess is that's not going to happen...
Conclusion: enough is enough! We need to learn to control our appetites for more of everything and become committed to sharing the world's scarce resources.
In a speech entitled "Make History: Make Poverty History" (2003), Nelson Mandela said this: "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. And overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice."