Harmony. Abundance. Two words used by my friends at the Advocates for Self Government to represent the things most of us want out of life and society. Two very elegant, inspiring words. You will find a link to the Advocates on the LINKS page back on the waterwind site ("World's Smallest Political Quiz").
I have come to a fundamental conclusion about how to most likely achieve harmony and abundance. This conclusion stems from what I think are the two major reasons why we don't have more harmony and abundance. These two things are misunderstanding (inhibiting harmony) and a lack of useful production (inhibiting abundance). In short:
The Secrets of Harmony and Abundance are COMMUNICATION and PRODUCTION.
As this essay explains, the essence of both harmony and abundance is cooperation, and the essence of cooperation is voluntary trade (whether the commodities are good feelings, rewarding relationships or money). By developing better communications skills, we minimize the chance of conflict. By developing better production skills, we maximize our value to others. These skills allow us to better achieve the three LIFEPOWER goals (Seek Joy, Create Value and Live Free).
Communication is how information is transmitted from one organism to another. In humans, the species which has developed the most complicated and effective form of communications on planet Earth, mistakes are common (probably due to this complexity). From my experience as a businessman, consultant, expert witness, public speaker, political candidate, researcher and writer, I have learned how important communication is to virtually all humans - and how miscommunication can lead to racial, cultural, personal and even criminal hostility.
Although most people agree that communication is important, most behave as if it weren't. I've observed this most profoundly in the American legal and judicial professions, where there are strong incentives to fight rather than settle disputes. Also, in public discussions of issues such as evolution, abortion, racial tensions, family abuse, business/consumer conflicts and any political or philosophical argument, miscommunication is rampant. Television and radio talk shows display the most astounding lack of communication between participants I can imagine. Indeed, they thrive on it.
It appears to me that most people are more interested in convincing others they are right, rather than accepting new information which might alter their existing beliefs. This structural chauvinism is so rampant as to be the primary underlying cause of wars, public policy disputes and perhaps even crime. Wars are most often precipitated by the hysteria of nationalism and/or rigid, dogmatic religious views ("We are right; they are wrong"). As in litigation, both parties view the other side as evil, wrong, and completely without merit. When someone on one side goes too far, such as killing someone or planting a bomb, then the other side has a convenient, reactionary excuse to ignore its own past aggressions. Violence begets violence and a downward spiral of pain and suffering spreads like a metasticized cancer.
The same thing occurs in debates over public policy, where people talk about which rule(s) should be imposed on everyone by force, instead of how we can each achieve the goals we have for life. No respect here; just coercion. Crime is sort of in between political action and war. The Prussian General von Clausewitz said, "War is politics carried on by other means." Crime begins with inappropriate behavior in children, which is not dealt with early on. Its escalation to violence and lack of respect for others is usually the result of parental neglect (spend TIME, not money on your kids) and the idea that revenge is sweet (from organized religion). The idea of revenge, in particular, is the code by which street gangs assert their independence from society, while conforming to the ethics of their surrogate family. It (revenge) is also the basis of virtually all legal systems. At the root of all these terrible conflicts is miscommunication, which stems from disrespect.
Respect for others means letting them have different ideas than you, worship different deities than you (if any) and disagree with you on important points of belief. It also means feeling good enough about yourself that you can tolerate this. Toleration is something rarely taught, though most people have a natural affinity for it as children. This early tolerance is most often broken down in childhood, as children are taught they are "superior" to those of another group. While labeling people into groups can add to this, it may not be possible or desirable to refrain from this entirely. You would want to distinguish between criminals and friends, for example. Likewise, you would probably not want to associate with people whose interests and beliefs are so against yours that the relationship is strained or unrewarding.
Loss of respect for others often comes from not being taught to respect yourself. This means learning to sacrifice yourself for others, without regard to what you want to do with your life. Guilt is a terribly crippling thing, and is often at the root of religious and politicial doctrines. That is, you should feel guilty if you are not sacrificing your needs to those of others to the extent that some traditional collective wisdom dictates. I submit that self respect must come from an honest, natural willingness to explore and express your own selfishness, preferably in ways that does not hurt others. See the essay, "SEEK Joy," as the first goal of the LIFEPOWER philosophy. A link to that section is provided at the end of this document.
Respect yourself first, shedding the guilt others heap on you for not sacrificing your interests, and then you are ready to respect others. Now, back to communication.
Most people don't know how to communicate well. I'm not just talking about inarticulate, crowd-shy people who never learned to speak or write effectively, but even people with those skills. You see, talking and writing are one-way communications. They are incomplete, unless accompanied by listening and reading. The kind of effective communication needed for more harmony in the world must include listening.
In this brief essay, I will share one simple, but important method of better listening. Professionals call it "active listening." Although it can get cumbersome if used to an extreme, the idea behind it is nothing more than being careful about listening.
Active Listening involves simply repeating what the person talking to you says, in your own words. Sounds simple, doesn't it? Often, it's not, because of the bad habits most of us have developed to prevent good communication. We often learn to tune out certain sounds, distort words and impose our judgments on what others are trying to say.
To be sure you are communicating with someone else, whether in a meeting or one-on-one, listen carefully to what the person says, and then say something like, "What I hear you saying is..." and then repeat, in your own words, what you heard the person say. The reason to use your own words; not just repeating exactly what the person said, is that you are trying to convert the other person's words into your clear understanding. Since we often define and use words differently among ourselves, this is not a trivial exercise. After you have repeated what you think the person said, let him/her respond and tell you whether you have it right. Repeat the process until you both agree what was communicated.
Only when the person agrees with your characterization of what (s)he said, do you go on to another point (or respond to a demand or question). This technique is effective in virtually all kinds of personal communications, including meetings, negotiations and personal disputes. By clearly understanding what the other person said before you make a point or answer a question, you minimize the chance of going in the wrong direction with your reply (or letting miscommunication grow into hostility).
Talk radio is an excellent example of people talking past each other without listening. In this forum, effective communication is discouraged, because it lowers audience ratings. Conflict produces excitement and energy, and that is what draws people to listen to such programs. Polite debate and reasoned analysis is very dull, and perhaps not profitable in the "shock jock" environment of today's radio business. Unfortunately, the same process occurs widely in even the most respected legal systems. Like talk radio, incentives in most formal legal systems (based on coercion and monopoly) favor conflict rather than settlement.
As you can imagine, Active Listening can slow down communications to a crawl if taken to an extreme. It is most effective in intense or emotional discussions where misunderstandings will have the most impact. It may be done less rigorously at other times, but it helps to always keep in mind the principles of Active Listening.
I hope this brief suggestion will increase your skill as a communicator, leading to less conflict with those you deal with. A wider application of this and other techniques is beyond the scope of this essay, but I hope you appreciate how miscommunication is so often the basis of dispute. Active listening is but one of many tools to improve communication.
I encourage you to explore other means of improving communication. The fundamental basis of good communication is respect. That is, you must respect the person you are attempting to communicate with, or it will most likely be a one-sided, incomplete communication. If you've been taught to sacrifice yourself for others, you might not have the self respect necessary to have genuine respect for others. The guilt that comes from such sacrifice often produces anger and resentment, which are often excuses not to effectively communicate with others. One reason you might want to more effectively communicate is to better get what you want. See the essay, "CREATE Value" in the LIFEPOWER series, linked at the end of this page.
Production is the application of labor to resources to make them more useful to living organisms. Although this will most often refer to humans, it could also apply to animals. As a general matter, production can occur in any species. As a specific matter, I will apply it to humans in this brief essay.
Practically anyone can understand what it means to produce something. When you take some components or resources and put them together to create something else, you have produced something. The more difficult trick is producing something useful.
Who decides what is useful? The person who benefits from your production. That is, your customer, beneficiary, recipient or friend. It's very common for us to give other people gifts that we think are useful, without checking to see if they share our opinions. Have you ever gotten a gift from someone who projected their values on the gift they got you? That is, they got you what they liked, but failed to find out what you liked? You've probably done it yourself as well, when getting a gift for someone else. In fact, it's so easy to project our values onto others that we often support large coercive institutions to assist us.
The gift example is used to illustrate the concept of subjective value. That is, everyone values things differently. If you have a hundred dollars, and I have a television set, we might trade them, but only if I want your money more than my television set. Likewise, you will make the trade only if you want my television set more than your hundred dollars. This is a simple voluntary transaction - the essence of market economics.
Notice that BOTH PARTIES BENEFIT due to the inequal values they place on the two items. If I ask two hundred dollars for my television, you might not buy it. If you offer only fifty dollars, I might not sell. It is our UNEQUAL opinions of value that made the transaction work, to both our benefits. The fact that we agreed on a single price doesn't mean we hold the same opinions of value. If we did, no transaction would have occurred. A voluntary transaction occurs when both parties decide to move from a less desirable state to a more desirable state. Think about it - this simple idea is very profound and important.
Now, if you work for an hour and make a pie out of mud, you have not produced anything useful. It is only useful if someone else can benefit from it. So, it's not the time or labor you spend which creates value, but rather the recipient's subjective, fickle, perhaps even irrational, opinion. This unpredictable process is the essence of what it takes for something to be useful. That is, someone else has to WANT it. It's not enough to make something; it has to be useful. This is what I mean by useful production.
Now, it would seem that anytime someone produces something someone else wants, it is useful production. But what if it took more resources to produce than it was worth? That is, what if you had to destroy two widgets to make one? While that would be production from the standpoint of the person benefitting from the produced widget, it would be a net loss to the people who had to put up the two widgets that were destroyed. What we have here is UNPROFITABLE PRODUCTION. This is a process that consumes more than it produces. This is a net loss, although this might not be clear to all participating. The producer and one-widget beneficiary might argue that the process is efficient, beneficial and fair. But guess how the two-widget losers would view it? As a loss.
When I say production is the secret to abundance, I mean NET USEFUL PRODUCTION, or profit, if you will. You will not create a net gain unless you produce more than you consume. This is the essence of societal abundance - net useful production, in excess of costs and losses. And since the beneficiaries' (customers?) subjective opinion of value is the thing that determines how useful something is, NO ONE IS SMART ENOUGH to tell others how to allocate their resources (not even those most sincerely guided by altruistic motives to maximize societal abundance).
And that, in a nutshell, is why coercive, government-like structures don't work to produce stable, long-lasting solutions to problems. They often work to solve short-term problems, and can appear to be solving long term problems (for decades at a time). But more often than not, problems are solved by creating more difficult problems for the future. An example is Social Security in the U.S., which is a pyramid scheme disguised as a benevolent program with two conflicting purposes: insurance and social welfare.
With respect to production (from which comes the standard of living society enjoys), individual deciders must have the freedom to choose what they want, how much to pay, and whether to buy or not. Anytime this process is interrupted by thief, legislature or public, there is a net loss. For only those receiving the benefits can decide what value is, and only those providing the resources can decide what must be fairly offered for their contribution. Any attempt to forcibly redistribute wealth upsets the net useful production process. This is often difficult to see, as benefits of such redistribution are obvious, while costs are hidden or delayed.
The essence of both harmony and abundance is cooperation. The essence of cooperation is voluntary trade. Not just trade in widgets or money, but in human emotions, friendships, associations, charities and business. When someone says (s)he has the right answer, to be imposed on everyone by force, (s)he has disrupted the most basic human institution of cooperation: the free, unregulated marketplace of ideas, products and services.
While there may be exceptions, it is generally true that coercive monopolies often consume more than they produce. You may not agree with this, but consider one final thought: If monopolies are bad, then why do we need a super-monopoly to protect us from them?
With that, I return you to your regularly-scheduled Web page at this time.
NOTE: If you would like to provide feedback on this essay, use the email link on the main LIFEPOWER page.