Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cupcakes For Japan

We are what we do.

Last week at school, I talked to some kids who were selling cupcakes at a table in the cafeteria. A sign, taped to the wall behind them read “Save Japan.” I asked the kids how my buying a cupcake would save Japan.
Kid: “The money is going to help the earthquake..”
Me: “You don't mean the 'earthquake.' You mean 'victims of the earthquake.'”
Kid (a little irritated): “Obviously.”
Me: “Ok. So where's the money going to?”
Kid: “Japan.”
Me: “I mean, who in Japan? How will it help them?”
Kid (exasperated): “Why do you have to make it a big deal? They need help. Don't you want to help?”

We are what we do.

Quick question: how do people know what you value? You, personally. What would your friends say? Your family? Your coworkers?

Look first at your workspace. Perhaps you have pictures of your kids tacked to your cubicle wall. Some shots from a skiing/fishing/beaching trip. A little sign that says “no whining” next to a bobble head of your favorite baseball player. Postcards from Rome or Tierra del Fuego. A pricey paperweight. An autographed snap of a you and someone successful.

How about your method of transport? What do you drive? What's in your CD player/mp3 player? What do you read everyday? Do you workout? Do you have a routine that you follow everyday? Almost everyday? Do you switch it up, go on a granola/fruit streak for a while then switch to egg sandwiches?

What do you do consciously everyday? What are you deliberate about? Do you brush your teeth with the same hand everyday? Do you ever choose to be uncomfortable? Do try to do things differently for the sake of doing them? What have you stopped improving because it is merely “good enough?”

This is not an article about how we judge each other or ourselves. It's not about class or style. It's not about self-improvement. This is an article about value: what you value through your choices. You are an economy unto yourself; an enormous market study waiting to observed. What you can learn isn't limited to how you can improve yourself by changing your spending habits or how you eat.

You can learn what it is you actually value-- as opposed to what you SAY you value.

Walking In Circles

“Know Thyself”
-inscribed in the wall of the Ancient Temple of Apollo at Delphi.

My idea is simple-- and it's not even mine: many of us barely know ourselves. Our arguments, our reactions, our “beliefs” often do not line up with what we claim are our personal values. It's not a moral , religious, or ethical point I am making. I am merely talking about the effect of our actions.

I know vegetarians who wear leather. Pro-lifers who are for the death penalty. People who are for lower taxes but complain about bad roads. Anti-war protesters who want to punch hawks. People against Mexican immigrants but for cheap labor. And that's just the political stuff. 

What about bosses who encourage self-motivation but punish those who don't follow the rules?  How about people who are against "unfairness" but take advantage of others any time they can?  People who ignore strangers but have a war against impoliteness?

My favorite:  people who think kids are lazy and listless while they, themselves, read nothing, explore nothing, and challenge themselves on nothing.

When we act against what we believe, we subvert progress.  We make our conversations ridiculous. It's a freakin' waste of time and energy.

The cost of believing one thing and doing another isn't that we become hypocrites. The cost is that we can't really improve anything. We make things worse while we're not looking. We walk around in circles while thinking we are traveling somewhere.  We break the things we say we are trying to fix. It sounds a bit silly but:  we can't grow.

How much energy are you spending to try and bridge the gap between what you believe and what you do? How much energy are we wasting as a culture because we don't see what we are actually doing?

We can't help Japan by selling cupcakes. So why are we teaching kids that we can?