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Yesterday I wrote about choice and more specifically about how we do not always like to have choice or the full range of choice offered to us as humans. I want to take that examination further and move the focus away from the past and focus on the present and how our choices of today can positively impact our future. In every venue we hear that these are special times and that the world is changing, that we are at a crisis point. To me this implies that we are also faced with a multitude of choices. To carry on from yesterday’s topic, the type of choice I want to focus on is the choice about how we are responding to the current climate and the choices we will make about our individual actions as a result.

Like most people I have in the past quickly fallen into a state of fear when faced with a potential catastrophe. Maybe it is a sign of maturation but whatever it is I find that the tendency to think that the “sky is falling” is no longer part of my regular repertoire. Okay I did have a mini-meltdown, it only lasted about 30 seconds, when we noticed that we had left one of our carryon bags, the one with our computer and all our travel documents except our passports, at the check-in counter at the Kiev Airport as we were about to board our flight to Lviv. Even in that case I had already started the thought process of how I would contact my daughter back in Canada and get her to retrieve the documents we needed but no need as we did get the bag back in our hands. It had not been stolen or blown up as an unattended bag.

On that trip there were other occasions where other people were surprised that we were not fearful about something whether it was coming to their country in the first place, taking a local bus to a suburban area of Lviv or taking a train from Lviv to Krakow. This highlighted a change in my personal perspective and tolerance for “fearful” situations but also highlighted the difference between my response and the expected response of the general public that is one of fear and subsequent immobilization. You could attribute it to naivety on my part but I believe it is more than that. I believe I have made a choice and that choice involves not buying into the fear-mongering that has been around for many years, remember 9/11, and has intensified in the last few years. There is always something that we should be deathly afraid of. Let’s look at the last ten years alone: 9/11, SARS, economic crisis, terrorists, H1N1, terrorists, liquid gel bomber, terrorists, economic crisis, underwear bomber, terrorists and now the total collapse of the economic system across the western world. What next? Even the people who spout platitudes about remaining positive and persevering in times of trouble leave us with a sense of foreboding about what we are to inevitably face in the future.

Naïve or not I am looking upon my world as one of opportunity. I see opportunities to choose other approaches to the ones that have put us into our current situation in the first place. Come to think of it within my family we made choices several years ago to not participate in the excessive consumerism that is expected and that creates an impossible situation. Beyond this one choice there are a number of other opportunities to make other positive choices in response to our present world state of affairs.

Let’s start with the issues about the economic system. I feel that what is expected for us is to be terribly afraid of losing everything, being destitute and therefore to continue to work in impossible situations for a non-living wage as the massive multi-nationals and banks continue to make record profits. No fear for them as the government is willing to bail them out of their debts even if it does mean increasing the bankrupt state of countries around the world. Maybe this economic system that rules the world and has pitted the small proportion of embarrassingly rich against the growing poor within the western world is not a system that we should struggle to save. Maybe there is an opportunity to re-examine the unfair econo-political system and figure out a more humane way of living in the world. Maybe the “Occupy” demonstrations around the world provide an opportunity for all of us to think and to start to make choices that move us in a direction that makes sense. So far it seems we are desperately hanging onto the very thing that is causing all the pain. Yes we all need money to be able to survive and to live the way we expect to and have become accustomed to. Does examining the notion that the way we have lived is the right way to live provide us with an opportunity to examine the very same notion and think about the alternatives? I believe that it does.

Now I am not naïve enough to not realize that this will not be easy. It will be terribly complicated and complex. It is difficult to make change of any kind but to change a system so embedded as the current economic system is massive in scope. At the same time I believe that the effort to make this change is an opportunity not to be missed. I go back to my recent interest with what happened in the German concentration camps and the accounts of survivors such as Primo Levi and Viktor Frankl. Their observations about the changes in behaviour amongst the camp inmates from times of no hope to times with some hope are interesting. Behaviors during the time they had no obvious hope of getting out of the impossible situation and their behaviour once it became clear that there was hope and that they may actually be saved in the liberation of the camp were significantly different. They noted that once the absolute fear of being hopelessly held as prisoners began to lift so did the animosity and conniving behaviour disappear. As Primo Levi put it, we began once again to treat each other as human beings not sub-humans competing for every ounce of food, shelter or safety we could muster. They had hope for a better life beyond the destructively competitive environment that they had found themselves in. Behaviours that made sense in the competitive “live or die” environment were no longer acceptable or necessary.

I know nothing is simple and a simple solution to a complex problem is often not a solution at all; however, and maybe naively, I believe that this above example provides us with some ideas for a start on examining alternatives to how we currently live. What if we moved away from our ultra competitive economic system? This may also allow people to change their focus from forced competition to a focus on community, cooperation and relationship. This in turn brings us to a place where the conversation and exchange of ideas about how we proceed can take place.

How do we set this in motion? Why not start with providing everyone, even the countless people who work in the service and retail industry a “living wage”. Why not provide them with a wage that would provide people with enough money in a regular work week to feed themselves and their families, to have a safe place to live and even some extra to participate in cultural events or recreational activities. With a minor reduction of the exorbitant salaries of the CEOs of the major companies that employ these individuals that living wage would probably be possible to provide. Gee, if these individuals had a better income perhaps they would be able to purchase some of the products that the same companies are worried about selling. Maybe if people were paid a decent salary they would not have to work a second or third job and these jobs would be available thus decreasing unemployment.

More importantly with more time and energy maybe we could work in more mutually beneficial ways to improve the communities that we live in and to support each other. With the time and energy available maybe we could begin to develop more humane ways to live on this planet and make choices to sustain the planet and the integrity of the human race. Naïve I know, But it is a start and it is worth a try.

Irene McDermott © 2011