Hey! How’d that happen? The first month of 2016 is almost over, already. One-twelfth of the year has gone by. Less than eleven months until Christmas. Only two and a half months until Tax Day (for those of us in the US). So much has been going on that it is easy to get head down and not looking up, especially in a Seattle winter. Yes, there are gloriously sunny days; but, bills are insistent, opportunities must be pursued, and patience and persistence are only exercised by letting time pass. Good news doesn’t like being rushed. In the meantime, I am glad I can dive into a grind that does good work, pays those bills, and opens doors for those opportunities – and yet, grinding away for the sake of grinding away leaves nothing but grounds.
This new year, 2016, has become a fascinating mix of optimism and pessimism that is prime fodder for my news feed of PretendingNotToPanic.com.
The issue isn’t trying to find something to post every day. The issue is finding a way to pick just a few items to spread out and post about. Within the first month of 2016 there have been optimistic updates on the sentience of trees, the possible redefinition of cities because of autonomous autos, US coal usage dropping to new lows, decreases in cancer, good jobs reports, and other items that didn’t make the daily list. The daily posts also included pessimistic updates on the economy, sea level rise, the apocalypse, over-fishing, homelessness, cyber attacks, and forest fires. The topic that attracted the most attention was the worsening wealth inequality (which inspired some impassioned responses that I have yet to respond to. Apologies, but I’ve been grinding away at work.)
We’re probably entering one of the most dynamic times in human civilization. It isn’t a surprise that the rhetoric is getting louder, especially during a US Presidential election cycle. Change is accelerating, possibly reaching rates that human discourse can’t match. Climate change is relatively slow, but understanding what’s happening requires research that is slower. Economic changes are made by humans, so we should be able to keep up; but much of finance is automated and operating at nearly the speed of light. Social changes are also made by humans, are far less predictable, and can be inspired by the simplest of events. Centuries ago, such issues were limited to a region and rarely interacted. Now, they all play with and against each other. Trying to understand it all may only be possible for a computer, which leads to the technological acceleration that may lead to the Digital Singularity.
As one friend commented; “How do you keep all of that in your head at the same time?” My first thought was, doesn’t everybody? But, no. Many people either implicitly or explicitly decide to limit their attention to their daily grind, leaving time for sitcoms, sports, and shopping. There is wisdom there. They aren’t grinding their brains about things they can’t change (supposedly.)
Personal finance (the main theme of this blog, believe it or not) benefits from an understanding of economics, finance, society, and personal values. Understanding any one of those four items is an admirable accomplishment. Understanding all four would probably warrant some sort of prize, though it is less likely to be a Nobel and more likely to be a shoulder stretching pat on the back.
I try to understand as much as I can; and dive deep when something verifiable, quantifiable, and important catches my attention. I’ve spent a lot of time these last two weeks understanding the implications of Oxfam’s report on wealth inequality. A few of us have been trying to find ways to display the math of the inequality, no judgment involved, and have learned how extreme it is. Even finding a way to print a graphic about it requires more money than any of us have available. One version of the print would be 500 feet x 500 feet. Multiple that out times a nominal $18 per square foot and get a printing bill of $4.5M. That may be unbelievable, but that’s also the point, and also why I’ve spent hours trying to prove myself wrong. (See my post for the background about the issue and Joe’s post about the technical difficulties in making such a print.)
The style of karate I practice has a concept that other styles have, too. Tight; no tight. There are times to commit everything to a task, to tighten the muscles and spirit to accomplish the goal. That level of effort can’t be maintained by humans forever, and no tight actually is the response that enables recovery, preparation for the next task, and long term sustainability.
If you find that trying to make your finances work sustainably is tightening your brow, your muscles, your attitude, and your actions; keep in mind that, to sustain life humans also must relax, rest, and recuperate after enough effort has been expended.
Grind, grind, grind, is admirable persistence. But, getting your nose too close to the grindstone gives you a bloody nose. Grinding a piece of glass properly creates new ways to see the world, but can also create a blurry mess.
If you find that today’s world has you grinding your teeth, remember that, while it make take the world’s population to fix the problems created by the world’s population, you don’t have to and can’t do it all yourself, that it’s okay to take a break; and that if it seems like it is too much to keep in one brain, that you have demonstrated a proper perception of the modern world. When the world gets to be too much, step back, catch your breath, trust in the billions of other people on the planet, and then step back in. The trick is to grind away at the problems and the issues, not at our selves and our souls. With seven billion of us grinding away, the issues could be done in a day – which at least rhymes, but would seemingly be the case for future generations looking back at our accomplishments. That’s a grind we could be proud of.