18 de novembro de 2014

In Search of an Alternative Path

Alternating is taking turns, interchanging successfully, so you may not cling to trends. An alternative is an option that should match the desired objective. Objectives also alternate. Every alternation should generate growth. Responsible growth is one that does not diminish the chances of others to grow along.

With these ideas in mind, we can draw our own alternative path within a fixed-route system.

We live in a society that thinks growth is increase in profit, and that success is the accumulation of goods. First, we need to understand that profit and goods are not bad, nor is their increase and accumulation. People always think they need to position themselves in extremes: either you are for or against it. Whether you are for, it is expected that you take certain positions and have a certain behavior; if you are against, it is expected of you to take positions diametrically opposed and have an entirely different approach. This is not alternating: this is diverging. Diverging is not bad either, but it is not the only alternative.

When profit is good? When it promotes a conscious well-being. A child washes the dishes and his mother gives him money to go to the movies, she also gives him a very tight hug and a kiss on the forehead to thank him for doing that for her. The hug and the kiss were the wages for the service, the money for the film was the profit. The problem is when the child confuses wage with profit and requires the mother to pay him a certain amount every time he washes the dishes for her, even when she hasn’t been able to go to the movies herself in months. And the situation gets even worse when this child starts charging even more for the service: an Xbox, a new iPhone ... learning the art of extortion from an early age.

What are the alternatives for this mom? Either she continues allowing her child to exploit her or she begins to exploit him back (now she can force him to wash the dishes not having the right to kisses, hugs, or money for the movies, after all, he is her son and he has to do what he is told to). She can also abandon the use of that service and wash the dishes herself (But then, quite possibly she would have to wash not only hers); or she can talk to him so that they can develop a participatory consciousness. The problem of profit is exploitation, which can come from both the consumer and the provider.

We live in a society that does not understand the value of things and therefore money is associated with service for people to give good value to the service they receive. Many business owners know this and take advantage of the situation by taxing their products and services with increasingly abusive prices to encourage consumption and increase their profit.

I worked as a volunteer for years giving free English classes (Brazilian school system doesn’t grant fluency in English to its students, even pushing them through 13 years of studies on the subject. Thus, many of them rely on private language schools to achieve fluency). During the years I served as a volunteer, just a few students became fluent. Not because the classes weren’t good enough, but because they could not appreciate the effort. They thought that by being free, the classes should not be as good as those of a paid teacher should. People have difficulty judging values. The few students who endured became teachers or fully fluent speakers faster than they would in regular language schools.

Then I started working for a famous language school here in Brazil, which pushed the so-called "market price" to students. Consumers trust the "safety" of buying a good service from a well-known trademark. However, the reality was that just a few had the money or time to conclude the course and from 100 students who started, after six years, only 3 or 4 concluded. And not everyone came out fully fluent, since not everyone could fully adapt to the preset material and methodology.

The biggest problem was the structure of the company. From the amount paid by the students, there was the percentage tax return, another considerable portion fattened the pockets of the franchiser, a considerable portion was left with the owner of the school, another percentage went to the structural maintenance of the business itself and only a small portion left over for those who actually provided the service. Even when the employer is very generous, he is trapped by the system and none of the service providers have a chance of real growth or receive a fitting reward for the service they provide.

What were my alternatives? Keep fattening the pockets of others. Open my own school and start exploiting other teachers. Stop working as a language teacher and find other sustainable alternatives. Or chat with other equally talented people who were tired of the system as well and develop together a new business model. This is what I did when I started Fluency at Hand.

The company's goal is not profit. We work with values below the "market price" for the service we provide. We adopt a fully customized approach, allowing students to learn more quickly. More importantly, there are no bosses or employees, there are people who help each other and are equitably rewarded for it. No need to work many hours to get a reasonable salary, which allows us to have time to do other activities. And as we all like to teach, even the work becomes a moment of leisure. As one of our teachers commented: "Actually, it's not how much I get. If any other school pays me a little more, I know how much they charge the student to be able to pay me that; in percentage, I get less and the student pays much more, which means both of us are being exploited."

What is a good salary? There are people who manage to break away entirely from the consumer society and live well without a salary: the assets they have accumulated (whether they fit in a house, room or case) will suffice; moreover, they learn to perform the services they need. However, there are others who are so wedded to the bonds of consumption that the highest their profit or earnings are, the more they seem to need: the assets they have accumulated will always seem outdated or insufficient, and will always require third-party service. They are highly dependent with a strong tendency to covetousness, criticism and arrogance.

A good salary is one that is sufficient. But it will never be enough for someone who is not self-sufficient. The less we need, the less we rely on money. So if I need housing, water, electricity, gas, internet, food that I can not produce myself, clothes I can not make, fuel or public transportation to allow me to get where I want to go, and if I can take care of my health and nutrition to rely less on external intervention in maintaining my health, if I have enough money to meet all those needs, it would be pure greed to want higher wages.

The problem is not what you want, the problem is why you want it. I do not have a car, neither do I think I need one. Recently I realized that I need a license, in case of an emergency. But I live in São Paulo, a city choked by traffic. Any motion will steal forty minutes to an hour of my day. And it does not really matter if I am in my own vehicle or on public transportation. So, I give preference to vehicles that may take more people to their destination. If I had a car, I would most likely talk to other friends who needed to leave at the same time so we could go together because I find it absurd how much space it takes up a car on a public road to transport just one person. And I would not care too much about who would pay for the gasoline, after all, I’d spend the same amount of fuel to go by myself.

I live in a rented house. I would like to have a home of my own for not having to worry about paying rent, but with the real estate abusive prices in Sao Paulo where you pay a quarter million dollars for a small two-room apartment in a secluded neighborhood, taking over an eternal debt of condominium fees that apart of the propriety price are higher than the rent I currently pay, I realized it's silly to contribute to this rotten system. So I wait for a change. After all, what I need is housing, and so I have. Property is a desire, not a need.

Ambition is good only when it is linked to the goal of "being", rarely when it is associated with the goal of "having". If we are self-sufficient, we won’t need much. Accumulating just the necessary is wiser.

So who do you see yourself as a successful person? The image you have of success depicts much of the relationship you have with yourself.

To many, success is measured by whom or how many they’ve managed to conquer or by the power they exert over others, for others it's being fairly recognized and rewarded for the contributions they make. But there are also those who do not need this recognition because they realize that success is within them, it is a happiness that is reflected in whatsoever they do and however they live their lives.

The simplicity of spirit is the secret to a successful life. For those who thirst for power will never feel satiated. Simplicity of mind does not mean complacency. What do you do when you reach the top of a mountain after a few minutes enjoying the view? You go down and plan another adventure! Life is full of great adventures with small moments of satisfaction: the satisfaction of waking up to another day, of playing with your dogs in the yard, of giving your seat on a crowded bus to an old lady who can barely stand in the aisle because all reserved seats are busy, of teaching a lesson and realizing the growth of your students, of tasting something very yummy that you have prepared yourself, of using the energy from that tasty meal to have what to spend at the gym, of writing an amazing article on your blog and realizing that other people read, liked and shared, of reading a good book, of watching a good movie, of cycling, of going to a warm bed on a cold day, or of taking a cold shower on a hot day. It's like all of those little specks of satisfaction would create the whole image of happiness.

Global Consciousness
But when we’ve got to this point of spiritual growth and social awareness, we realize that the world is moving in the opposite direction. After all, we’ve taken an alternative path to get to this point. Then it starts to become clear that we need to help the others to realize they need to reconsider their pathological paradigms.

No wonder that the great religions of the world erupted from individuals seeking that inner peace. Muhammad, a recluse in a cave, while meditating on the degeneration of his people, had a revelation that gave birth to Islam; Siddhartha, meditating under a tree in an inner search for truth, gave rise to Buddhism; Moses, a recluse on the mountaintop,  meditated and received the revelation that is the basis of Judaism; Jesus, after 40 days in the wilderness trying to understand the nature of his mission, became the Christ whose teachings were so relevant that even changed the timing of our era.

As we lose ourselves in search of our inner essence, we find the overall principle, that thing that makes every one a whole. And we realize that this whole is rotten from the roots.

We live in a world of finite resources but we do use them as if they were infinite. Nature is constantly warning us of an impending global collapse, but we prefer to think that all this is pure fiction until tap water supplies dry up just when we soaped ourselves (and this is just the beginning of chaos).

Levels of natural extraction must be reduced to a sustainable level per capita. Those resources must be fairly and reasonably distributed for a global collapse may not occur. However, to make this happen, dramatic changes in production systems urgently need to take place and we all have to wake up to the needs of self-sufficiency as we disengage ourselves from these values that the greedy consumer society has made us believe as absolute truths.

An alternative way can be found, no matter if everyone agrees or follows the same direction. What can not be anymore is people to keep following this path of self-destruction that favors individualism, underscores ambition, strengthens the powerful and takes from the weak even the little they have.

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