Think. Consider. Ponder. Plan. But remember to get started. “The journey of a thousand leagues begins with one step.” Without that first step the journey may never happen, and after that first step the new view may change the goal. And that’s good. In the words of Dirk Gently, from Douglas Adams’ book, Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul, “I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” I applaud those who are just starting.
I watch trends. I’m not interested in the fashion of the day. I’m interested in the next big thing, in many arenas. It’s fun to sit and think about the possibilities, rummage around with my brain in sci-fi mode, and play what-if a lot. But for me, a trend is something where someone, and hopefully many people, are taking first steps. Action has occurred. Someone has stepped past the academic.
Until recently there’s been a lot of talk but very little action regarding wealth inequities in America. For the last decade or so the action has been for lower taxes and lower services. Conversations to the contrary only became legislation through great effort and with seemingly less effectiveness. Individuals on both sides were active and many had taken first steps, but there was a preponderance of appealing to common cause and compassion that was ineffective at maintaining social safety nets. The Occupy movement was begun because too many people have fallen through the nets while watching others supported by structures formed from stimulus and buyouts. Within one month a small crowd showing up in New York City that was ignored by the press has turned into a trend that has spread to 70 cities that can’t be ignored. Sometime back there one person mentioned the idea to another person and the first step was taken.
Taking a step is not a guarantee of completing a journey. But not taking that step makes that completion highly unlikely. I won’t use absolutes because limos can appear, helicopters can swoop in, the Earth can move to make things happen. Some folks get lucky that way. (Let me check my lottery ticket.)
The other day, a frugal friend called for advice (I don’t give advice! But I do like to ask lots of pertinent questions. Call me.) about how to get twentysomethings interested in their personal finance. How do we get them to take that first step? It is easy and true that all they have to do is take a first step, but that’s only obvious in retrospect. Retrospection is only available to people who have gone far enough to be able to see that they’ve gone somewhere. For many, personal finance isn’t even part of a theoretical or academic conversation. Make and spend and tidy it up just enough once a year to fill out the taxes is typical of most personal finance plans. It probably isn’t sustainable, but ignorance can be bliss, at least for a while. Why would they leave bliss?
A friend wrote a book called Tactics of Hope. Pardon me Wilford as I massively paraphrase and possibly misstate one of your messages, but what I got from our conversations was that amidst the cry for the need for change there must be hope.
A twentysomething decades from retirement and enjoying a life without commitment probably won’t listen to lectures about compound interest, protections against inflation, and the long term downside of fast food. They might be ready to hear about goals that are enticing, whether that’s travel, philanthropy, artistic pursuits, or better parties. (Check the stories on New Road Map Foundation’s page or over at Simple Living Forum.) With a goal in mind, then they may be interested in finding where to make that first step. To me, that first step is more important than the goal because that first step changes the view which changes the next step which changes the view repeatedly until the journey is done. The final goal may never have been visible from the initial stand.
People change when they want to change. Arguing for them to change is more likely to create resentment than sustainable results. Enticing them to change can be much more fun, can spread, pervade, and reinforce itself.
For a while our government has been spending as if it was absorbed in the opposite of a party mentality that can be as equally entrapping. Trillions of dollars and tens or hundreds of thousands of lives have been spent in response to an attack that cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives. Hundreds of billions were spent to protect institutions that failed hundreds of millions of people. Actions have been out of proportion.
The Occupy movement seems to have taken a step back from that extreme mentality. Despite a few misdemeanors, the majority of the protestors seem to be in more of a collaborative and festival mode. I’ve seen more art than angst. There are more creative solutions being considered than angry acts. (Let’s hope it stays that way.) The early participants were derided for not having a clear message. I cheer them for taking a first step. The messages are multiplying, but that’s because there are many issues that have been ignored during ten years of the Dismal Decade. As another friend put it, this is the Decisive Decade. There’s a lot of work to do. It’s true that we can’t continue fighting, consuming, and ignoring and that we should hit the brakes on a lot of what we’re doing; but, I am more encouraged by the tendency for people to mention what we may gain: a more just society, sustainable institutions, compassionate governance, and a healthier world.
We the people have taken the first step. We the people are the nation. I’m looking forward to what just started.