April 28, 2012

Life and Poker

I was channel surfing recently when I landed on a televised poker game.  I happen to enjoy poker, especially when winning, and so I watched for awhile.  At some point it occurred to me that  . . . poker is an excellent analogy for life.

Hear me out . . .
  • Everyone brings to the table their unique set of skills and talents.  Some are great players, some are adequate, and some are really not cut out for the game whatsoever.  Of course, not being a good poker player means you won't survive long at the table.  Does that make the bad poker player a bad person?  Of course not, yet at the table and in life those who can't play "the game" well are often ridiculed and shamed.

  • Every person at the table has pockets of different "depths".   Some can lose and simply put their hand in their pocket to re-load.  Others . . . not so much.

  • Big stacks can absorb huge losses and still survive.  However, even small losses can be fatal to the short stack.  Who feels the most pain . . . a billionaire suffering losses of hundreds of millions or a single Mom living cheque to cheque facing an unexpected car repair and therefore cannot afford to pay her utilities?

  • Poker can be unfair, if not downright cruel.  Even if you get great cards and make good decisions you can still lose the hand.  And, the opposite is equally true.  Sometimes, much to the chagrin of others, someone with a mediocre hand and doesn't know what they're doing can get lucky.

  • Whereas big stacks can afford to be patient, wait for some good cards, and pick their spots; the short stack has to act immediately, often pre-maturely, with whatever cards he or she is dealt while hoping for a little luck before the forced bets drain away their chips. 

  • Sometimes the big stack is able to use its relative wealth to bully others and win hands that are not very good.  Advantage big stack . . . and the rich get richer.

  • Even if the players at the table are of fairly equal skills and have equal depth of pockets  (neither of which happens very often, if at all) . . . everyone gets different cards dealt to them.  Even good players can only do so much with bad cards.  You can be the sharpest knife in the drawer but a series of bad luck can still wipe you out.

Of course, this analogy breaks down on one crucial point . . .

Poker is just a game, but life is for keeps.  Whereas I have no problem with big stacks in life, I am concerned about people getting knocked out of the game.  Even if a person is responsible for their predicament, bad decisions should mean that they will never have a big stack not that they will be sentenced to hunger or homelessness.

(By the way . . . if you happen to think that life IS a game . . . chances are you've got a big stack.  Just saying.)

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

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April 14, 2012

Since You Asked . . .

I received a question on Twitter today, the answer to which was certainly going to be way, way, way more than 140 characters.  Thus today's blog. 

The question was essentially . . .

What is social justice, and how much does it cost to achieve it?

Social justice isn’t something you “achieve”, like reaching the top of Mt. Everest.  Rather, social justice is more akin to a perspective or a framework for decision making and behaviour.  In this regard, social justice should be seen in the same light as environmentalism or morality.  It’s more about how you approach the summit.
The objective of social justice is the same and equal rights for all people everywhere.  For me, an important document in defining rights is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights produced by the United Nations.  Amongst these rights are the right to food, clean water, shelter, education, health care, earning a living, etc.  Just like justice, social justice is often more clearly defined in the breach.  Oppression, discrimination, denial of necessities, actual or de facto slavery, taking advantage of others . . . all of these are blatant contraventions of social justice.
Given the nature of social justice, one cannot quantify the cost to achieve it for three reasons.  First, as stated, it is not something that is once and for always “achieved”.  Second, it is not an end as much as it is an ongoing process.  Third, to frame the question in this manner is to forget that through social justice many benefits are achieved, which I would argue greatly outweigh any costs associated with pursuing social justice.  However, if forced to answer the question, I would say that benefits of freeing people from abuses, oppression, and denial of rights is worthy of any cost; but the increased economic productivity of people who benefit from social justice initiatives offsets any and all costs along the way.
Turning Specifically to Poverty Eradication
Now, if one were to look at particular endeavours that fall under the social justice umbrella, such as poverty eradication, then one could start to put a price tag on achieving such.  Many studies looking at poverty in the developed world indicate that poverty eradication would actually SAVE money. Given that the high cost of servicing poverty and the huge indirect costs of poverty to health systems, legal systems, and lost productivity; it actually costs LESS to eradicate poverty.  It’s not a matter of spending more, but a matter of spending better. 
With respect to poverty in the developing world, the cost to eradicate the biggest elements of poverty have been determined to be only a fraction of what the world spends on other things, such as military.  For example, at the turn of the millennium it was estimated that the additional cost to ensure everyone everywhere had education, clean water and sanitation, basic health, sufficient nutrition, and safe reproductive health for all women would be $40 Billion.   However, at the same time, the world spent $780 Billion on military.  (these cost estimates come from The State of Human Development, UN Human Development Report 1998)
In other words, whether in the developed or developing world, poverty eradication is within our grasp . . . and within our budget.

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See What You Can Do

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders

April 11, 2012

Our Crazy World

WARNING:  Some readers will be troubled by that which follows.  It is those readers, perhaps, who should take it most to heart.

When hearing about That Poverty Project for the first time, some people simply shake their head, look me in the eye, and bluntly state the obvious - "You're CRAZY!"  While respecting their honesty, and not able to argue the verity of their observation, my response has always been . . .

"You know what's crazy? 
Living in a world with sufficient resources
to feed everyone and yet having almost
a billion hungry people . . . THAT's crazy. 
Having millions of people die every
year, thousands every day, from
preventable diseases . . . THAT's crazy.  
Some having more than they could
ever need in 10 lifetimes while
others not having enough to
get through the day . . . THAT's crazy."

We live in a crazy world.  Seriously, I'm not being funny or indulging in euphemism.  I'm also not being judgemental, just stating fact.  Crazy.  Insane.  Madness.  I believe that in much of the world the prevailing consciousness, or lack thereof, is unhealthy, unbalanced . . . delusional.

I'm not alone in this belief.

Famed spiritual teacher, Eckhart Tolle, has spoken of the insanity in the world.  In "A New Earth" (New York, Dutton, a member of Penguin Group USA Inc., 2005), Tolle summarized (at pp. 11-12):

"The collective manifestations of the insanity that lies at the heart
of the human condition constitute the greater part of human history. 
It is to a large extent a history of madness.  If the history of humanity were
the clinical case history of a single human being, the diagnosis would
have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity
to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against
his perceived "enemies" - his own unconsciousness projected outward.
Criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals."

And, this is not a statement of the past which we have outgrown or matured beyond.  Quite the opposite.  Just prior to the above quote, Tolle concluded (at p. 11):

"We only need to watch the daily news on television to realize that
the madness has not abated, that it is continuing into the twenty-first century. 
Another aspect of the collective dysfunction of the human mind is the
unprecedented violence that humans are inflicting on other life-forms
and the planet itself - the destruction of oxygen-producing forests and
other plants and animal life; ill-treatment of animals in factory farms; and
poisoning rivers, oceans, and air.  Driven by greed, ignorant of their
connectedness to the whole, humans persist in behaviour that, if
continued unchecked, can only result in their own destruction."

Hmmm.  I don't know about you, but my vote goes towards changing the way we think so as to avoid our own destruction.  Paradigm shift good.  Own destruction bad.

Along this same vein, successful Hollywood director, Tom Shadyac, has recently released a thought provoking documentary called "I AM" that interviews many of the world's great minds to get to the root of the challenges facing the world today.  In the film a number of realizations emerge.  First, contrary to prevailing thought about our "separateness" from one another, humans are naturally communal, social creatures who are actually hardwired for empathy and connection with one another.  Accordingly, acting contrary to our very nature while proliferating separateness is unhealthy and destructive.  Second, Shadyac observes that society has changed in how it sees accumulation of wealth.  Whereas at one time a person who accumulated more than they personally needed was seen as mentally ill, they are now exalted.  He drew upon examples in nature to show how any plant or animal that consumes more than it needs soon results in its own destruction and death, and noted how cells in the human body that over consume are called cancer.  "I AM" makes the very clear statement that we must recognize the "mental illness" that has consumed society in denial of our very nature while embracing a healthier, more sustainable approach to the benefit of all.

None of this is new.  Similar messages have been delivered by the great teachers from a variety of traditions for thousands of years.  We are walking down a path that is destructive, unhealthy, unsustainable.  Unfortunately, as any kid will tell you as he walks down the breakfast cereal row at the grocery store, what's good for you doesn't necessarily taste the best.  But really . . . does greed, selfishness, and over consumption taste good?  Just like the kid may change his mind about the cereal he likes after repeated trips to the dentist; so, too, we need to seek healing and different thinking when we see the poverty, inequality, and suffering unleashed by our desires.

Some of us are hyper-sensitive to the needs of one another.  Hyper-aware of the pain being inflicted upon one another.  Hyper-conscious of the inconsistencies between values and actions . . . between that which we say we believe and that which we do.   Ironically, in trying to bring attention to the prevailing madness that is widely accepted as normal, some of us are called "crazy".

The world is but a room without walls (albeit rubber walls may be needed).  We are one.  We are all connected.  Pain anywhere is our pain.  When will we awaken to this reality?

Hey!!  I'm That Poverty Guy . . . let's make a world of difference together.

Click Here to See WHAT YOU CAN DO.

Click Here to Sign . . . A Declaration to World Leaders.