Judith Dean, who lives in Seattle, used to be the general manager for a large professional performing arts company. Now, by choice, she works with a different rhythm as an independent bookkeeper (as well as being IN CONTEXT’s subscription department).
OVER THE PAST three years, as I have carved out dramatic changes in my lifestyle and sources of livelihood, I have been perplexed by the subject of economics. During this time I have come again and again to a point of realization: economics from a national, international or global point of view is simply too much for me to grapple with effectively. Each time I contemplate that larger picture in an effort to understand what I can do to correct the imbalances among people or to alter a seemingly unproductive pattern of global interaction, I return to my self and to my role and responsibility as a single particle in that large and complex web.
I return to very simple questions of choice. Choices which I explore and make based on my best efforts to sense what my responsibilities are in gentling my personal economic relationship to the world. Economics, it seems to me, ultimately boils down to each of us, and to the simple, often unnoticed economic choices that we make each day of our lives. If I can make daily economic choices with as much integrity as possible, then I am doing the most I know how to do to heal the larger whole.
During the past three years I have come to make a number of choices which are a reflection of my growing awareness of my responsibility for my economic impact upon the world. Many of these choices are born of my evolving spiritual awarenesses, and many are blind stumblings toward unspoken principles, unarticulated but felt.
One choice has been to tithe. When I first entered a period of chosen “poverty” I was gripped by a fear of not having enough. I remembered a story from childhood Sunday school days of an old woman who came to the temple and gave the last coin she had while much richer people gave nothing. As a child I was deeply touched by her willingness to give and her complete trust in her well-being. I decided that I wanted to be like that old woman: to feel always that I have enough to give some away. I have learned that fostering that feeling of fullness and well-being in me is nurtured best when the first check I write when I receive income is my tithing check. Somehow this allows the money to continue to move freely, in and out of my sphere.
I also believe in tithing for its economic implications in my local and global community. Tithing gives me a small amount of power to support those ideas and causes which I believe can contribute to the healing of the earth and humanity. I daydream sometimes that if more of my friends joined me, as individuals and as small and large businesses, we would effect a world of change with our tithes.
A second choice has been to leave a higher paying “profession” and opt for less prestigious and sometimes less high paying skilled work which allows me instead time flexibility, a slower, quieter pace and a more wholistic lifestyle than I had before. For me, making a choice toward right livelihood and a quiet sense of inner well-being meant releasing large units of emotion and self-image tied deeply to images of being “successful” in the world.
It was difficult for my ego to “step down” and to explain to my upward spiraling former colleagues why I was no longer chasing the daydream that they still pursue. Some continue to shake their heads over me and wonder why I am not working up to my “potential.” I am learning that in order to incorporate the inner side of my life into the working whole of me I must release a great deal of linearity, goal oriented focus and cultural images of upward mobility and success. I am rewarded by a continually increasing sense of well- being.
Releasing that world and moving into one which for the time being has less cash available than I had before also creates a deeply conscious awareness of daily economic choices. Not only am I closing myself out of my former professional world philosophically, but economically as well. No longer does money slip rapidly into the many diversions of that flashy upper middle class American world. Suddenly things which seemed so necessary, aren’t. Activities which were commonplace, aren’t. Replacing that world is one in which the conscious choice of where and how and for what my money is spent is much more finely tuned. We live in a world tempted daily by a myriad of social activities, consumerism, and consumption. I lived in that world and became accustomed to having more than I needed so that I never thought about it and simply assumed that I needed all that I had. For me a dramatic economic change was required to begin to see clearly that I had other choices.
My third choice has been to become as conscious as I can possibly be of where and on what my money is spent. If I believe in small business rather than large multinational corporations, am I willing to purchase what I need from small business people rather than at my local chain store? Am I willing to have my shopping be a little less convenient? Am I willing to pay a little more because that proprietor can’t compete with retail chain store prices?
If I believe in small farmers rather than agri-business and organic food rather than chemical fertilizers and pesticide sprays, am I willing to pay slightly more for my produce and grain because the current economic environment favors the large scale chemically based operations?
If I believe animals should be treated with dignity and respect and honored for their gifts to us rather than be filled with chemicals and grown on assembly lines, am I willing to reduce my consumption of animals?
If I believe that people in other countries who harvest vegetables and fruit for me to eat should be paid adequately for their work and should not be subjected to toxic levels of pesticides, am I willing to buy foods which usually cost more from vendors who are making an effort to meet the needs of those workers?
If I believe in durable rather than disposable goods, am I willing to purchase durable goods? If I believe in fostering handcrafted goods, am I willing to pay a higher price for labor?
If I believe in reducing pollution and garbage production, am I willing to reduce the purchase of items in disposable containers and become more creative about how to stock and supply my shelves? Am I willing to become mindful of what products I can buy that are less damaging to the environment or are produced with less toxic chemical waste?
I believe that we have tremendous power in every dollar we spend each day of our lives. If enough of us would spend our money in directions that reflect our beliefs about how we would like the world to be, I am convinced that we could effect tremendous change. No business can continue to operate unless people purchase whatever product or service is being peddled. And the most well-meaning cultural change agents cannot effect economic change until each individual becomes increasingly conscious of where and how his/her money is spent.
And so, in my evolving sense of place in the larger world and its complex economic system, I have so far developed three principles which are giving me a sense of positive participation in the larger process. Tithing, disengagement from our globally unbalanced American consumerism, and a more conscious awareness of what principles my daily expenditures of money are fostering are my steps toward a more wholistic participation in our complex global economic system.
There are many people who live much more simply than I, some by choice, some by deprivation. All of us exist in varying degrees of simplicity and harmony with the earth, our fellow humans, our emerging culture. In evolving a sustainable culture and a healing of our planet, it seems to me that each one of us would benefit the unfolding whole by continuing to become increasingly aware of our participation in an economic system, aware of what beliefs, ideals, and principles we bring to that interaction.