Archive for August, 2010

From childhood we are indoctrinated to believe that power and money are bad and turn us into bad people.  Phrases like, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” or “money is the root of all evil” fill our daily vocabulary, and worse still, our sub-conscious awareness.

The irony of all of this, and the danger, is that it turns us into helpless victims when the reality is, power and money are neither good nor bad, it is the choices we make on how we use them that determine their impact.  Even more important is the need to recognize that, if we buy into this philosophy, we surrender the power over our daily lives, we surrender the ability to impact the world around us, not because we are acting, but rather because we are failing to act.

Ok Cecilia, what are you really talking about?  Right now, everything:

  • surrendering our ability to create jobs for ourselves by saying it is only government or large businesses that can create jobs;
  • surrendering our ability to help each other out financially by saying it is only banks who can lend money to people;
  • surrendering our ability as adults to stop bulling in schools by hiring experts to solve the problem instead of telling our children AND children who are not our own that such behavior is 100% wrong and will not be tolerated;
  • surrendering our ability to stop the media from the constant spew of negativity and vitriolic confrontation by tuning in to shows that are full of intrigue and people shouting at each other or people plotting against each other or denigrating each other (aka reality tv and talk shows and murder shows and gossip shows)  when the simple way to change this tide is to watch (or do) something different;
  • surrendering our ability to uphold Constitutional rights on which the United States was formed by allowing extremists to call all Muslims terrorists or state than anyone who is in favor of upholding equality for ALL is a Nazi or a Facist, or failing to recognize that the Constitution calls for separation of Church and State so if homosexuals have a Civil Union (legal issue) it has no impact on whether they have a Religious Union (where each religion can impose it’s own moral bias while still allowing everyone else the freedom to have their own beliefs).

Yes, my list could go on forever and it is not limited to the US. Here are foreign examples:

  • accepting that corruption is just the way things are and paying bribes which not only surrender ones power but, worse still, finance the oppressors so they can gain more power at one’s expense!
  • electing politicians who are well known to take money from special interests (public or private) and spend all their time pandering to those special interests while ignoring requests tied to the one thing that enables them to hold elected office in the first place: your vote!
  • supporting political regimes, anywhere in the wold, which maintain their dominance by banning opposition or worse still, torture, imprisonment, and other acts of hostility or violence for the simple reason that it is “personally or strategically convenient” to do so at this particular point in time!

Of course I could go on forever but my focus is now adequately clear. Little wonder the world is in a mess and yet we lament as if it takes power or money beyond what we have individually available to change this.

It is time to abandon the false notion and to reclaim our personal power.

First and foremost is the need to recognize that emotions cause the release of chemicals in our body and nervous system.  Prolonged exposure to the same type of emotion (positive or negative) is as addictive as taking drugs such as cocaine. In the same manner a drug addict gets accustomed to the chemical stimulus of a drug and needs more of the drug/stimulus, our bodies intuitively realize the connection between our behavior and the release of chemicals and start reacting in a way that will generate the type of chemicals that have accumulated in the system. Hence, if the stimulus is constantly negative, we will do increasingly negative things;  if the the stimulus is constantly positive, we will do increasingly positive things.  For those unfamiliar with literature on this concept, here are some references:

CharmingHealth.com “Negative Thought Patterns could Instigate Addiction Tendencies” http://www.charminghealth.com/negative-emotions/addiction.htm

The Economist (Feb 12, 2004) “I get a kick out of you: scientist are finding out that, after all, love really is down to a chemical addiction between people.” http://www.oxytocin.org/oxytoc/love-science.html

HealthMad.com (Aug 12, 2007) “The Physiology of Anger” http://healthmad.com/mental-health/physiology-of-anger/

Additionz.com (emotional checklist for addicts: hint, if you find you have a lot of these symptoms, you need to find ways to start managing your emotions) http://www.addictionz.com/feelings_and_emotions.htm

As with anything in life, the goal is to maintain a balance.

The second step is recognizing when one is having a reaction that is based on fear (fear that if I help someone else I will not have enough for me, fear of being ridiculed, fear that if I accept a different perspective/behavior I will become the same way, fear of being retaliated against…).  As Frankin D Roosevelt once so eloquently and succinctly stated:

“the only thing we have to fear is fear itself!”

You can read the full and inspiring speech here http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2007/apr/25/greatspeeches

With respect to what one can do, an easy first step is to alter our behavior.  If we accept the falsehood that only certain people such as Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt, Mayor Bloomberg…have the power/money/both to effect change in this world, we miss the golden opportunity to make the most radical change of all – change in the world immediately surrounding us.

The most recent example of an unsung hero I’ve seen is Shirley Sherrod. Who? The woman who works for the US Dept of Agriculture, got fired because an extremist deliberately misrepresented her speech and claimed she was racist so nobody bothered to verify the truth, and, was then hired back when the very people she was alleged to have harmed publicly stated she was the one person who did something to help them.

Nobody has given Ms Sherrod a plaque, nobody has given her a medal.  How she stays sane and positive through all of this is a mystery to me, especially after hearing the famous speech during which she shared pieces of her life story:

It is about 43min long and well worth listening to.  However, for those who prefer reading or the Cliff Notes version, here are the highlights:

Ms. Sherrod grew up in the South (Baker County, Georgia) dreaming of moving to the “freedom” of the North because African Americans who had gone North would come and visit relatives showing off fancy cars and clothes.  Unbeknown to their Southern relatives, many Northerners were pulling a Gatsby move (borrowing and renting clothes and cars in order to create the illusion of wealth).

She grew up in a family of of 5 sisters with a father who, despite loving his daughters dearly, wanted a son so badly he gave all the girls boys nicknames.  When she was 17yrs old and filled with excitement about going to college up North, her mother got pregnant for the sixth time and her father announced to everyone this was his son.  He was right but never got to see his son because 2mths before his son was born, he was murdered in June of 1965 by a white man and, despite there being 3 witnesses, there was no conviction.  Being the oldest, Ms Sherrod had to give up her dreams of going to college up North and stay in Georgia to help her mother raise her siblings while also going to college.

Prior to this, the county Sherriff lynched her uncle (Robert, aka Bobby, Hall) in the early 40’s and, much to everyone’s surprise, an all white federal jury convicted him of depriving her uncle of his civil rights (murder against a black man would not stick on those days).  The Sherriff appealed his conviction to the US Supreme Court and the Court overturned the conviction on the basis that the appropriate charge was murder; the Court also issued a statement saying that, in order to convict of murder, intent had to be proven thereby setting the Sherriff free.  Details of the case Screws vs United States can be found here http://supreme.justia.com/us/325/91/case.html There are some who are attacking Ms Sherrod by saying her statements are false because the court records state that her uncle was murdered and do not state that he was lynched.  To such people I would ask: is murder by any other name any less deadly?  You are missing the forest for the trees.  The important issue is not the word that she used to describe the act but the fact that it took place and was sanctioned by a man who took an oath “to protect and to serve”! Why is it those words (protect and serve) are very conveniently missing from your rhetoric? Yes, there are many outstanding law enforcement officials who deserve to be highly praised but Sherriff Screws was certainly not one of them nor is such a heinous act defensible or excusable in any way.

When Shirley Sherrod graduated from college she again had hopes to leave Georgia but, the mystery of fate, her job opportunity came up with the USDA in Georgia.  By now she is fed up of living in Georgia and, understandably fed up with those who were white.  Fate or hand of God, a white couple (Roger and Eloise Spooner) are assigned to her for assistance because they were in danger of loosing their farm.  She did her duties per her job description and put them in the hands of an attorney.  Much to her surprise, the couple came back to her office after some time in sheer desperation.  The attorney had done nothing and they were certainly going to lose everything if she did not help.

This was the transformational moment in her life.  She suddenly realized poor white people were not treated any better than poor black people. She remembered stories told by her parents and other older adults that  Jim Crow laws in the South had be instituted because it was necessary to keep people working at extremely low wages and in horrible conditions in order to make profits.  The “benefits” gained from indentured servitude and slavery had to be preserved in order for this to continue.  However, after slavery was abolished the poor were beginning to band together and it was necessary to drive a wedge between poor whites and poor blacks so Jim Crow laws were put in effect in order to create the illusion of preferential treatment but the truth is that poor whites were just as exploited and oppressed, just in different ways.  All this came rushing back to her in a single moment and a rage lit inside of her because she realized that this white couple begging for her help was no different from any member of her family who had been victimized.  Ms Sherrod decided she would do every thing in her power to ensure that their rights were preserved.  She succeeded and the couple was able to keep their farm!

You can hear their gratitude in their own words

It was also at this moment that Ms Sherrod realized the fight is not a fight about race but a fight against those who continually use their positions of influence, money and/or power to spread fear, false information, and, to oppress others.  She realized the importance of taking action to undo such misdeeds in one’s daily life, not just through legislation or demonstrations.

I will end by saying this should be a lesson to us all in how to do the right thing in our daily lives (even when we are filled with hurt and anger).  I find it often helps to have a mantra as a guide during difficult times.  For me, the Rotary 4 Way Test is always helpful:

4 Way Test of the things we think, say or do

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Let this be your guide the next time you have to Think, Say, or, Do anything.

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This NYT slideshow depicts a digital waste dump in Ghana


The last slide bears the following caption:

“The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary 
Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, agreed to in 1989 and now adopted 
by a majority of nations, was meant to stop the dumping of toxic waste in poor 
countries. But rules get complicated when the waste arrives as a gift.”

The problem is also not limited to Ghana.  It affects all low-income countries in the same manner and goes beyond e-waste to include old refrigerators with freon and other waste contaminants that have been banned in high-income countries.

When it comes to hazardous waste, there is little benevolence involved (i.e. the problem is not rooted in charitable donations).  Developing countries have become a target dumping ground for hazardous waste dumping.

Wikipedia: Environmental Dumping http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_dumping

Encyclopedia of the Earth: Transboundary dumping of hazardous waste


“While some transactions generated little or no controversies, two highly-publicized incidents of dumping of toxic waste which backfired were reported in June 1988. More than 15,000 tons of incinerator ash from the city of Philadelphia, U.S. was dumped on Kassa Island in Guinea by Bulkhandling, a Norwegian company. The dumping was reportedly carried out with the collaboration of a Guinean company, the complicity of four officials of Guinea’s Ministry of Trade, and the reported involvement of the Norwegian Consulate Office in Conakry, Guinea. The four Ministry of Trade officials each received a four-year jail term while the Guinean government ordered that the ash be removed.”

Attempts at Solutions:

Basel Action Network http://www.ban.org/ban_news/2009/090624_stop_dumping_on_developing_countries.html

Peacemeal recycling efforts



The problem continues to grow

Feb 23, 2010 Science Daily: Hazardous E-Waste Surging in Developing Countries http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/02/100222081911.htm

Jun 8, 2010 UN Radio Toxic Waste Dumping a Breach of Human Rights http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/detail/96845.html

Despite those who assert that regulation causes problems and increases costs, it is clear that compliance cannot be achieved through voluntary measures.  Strict Toxicity Limit,  Recycling and Waste Management Regulations  need to be developed and implemented across the board (i.e. in all countries).  Hefty fines (as in fines that truly serve as a deterrent not those that can be written off as a cost-of-doing business) also need to be enforced.  For governments in desperate need of new revenue sources, this is a readily identifiable source of income.

Final thoughts:

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully;
Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers.”
1 Timothy 1. 8-9.

or for those who prefer non-religious quotations

“The good need fear no law; it is his safety, and the bad man’s awe.”
Ben Jonson

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