Tag Archives: Money

Off the Net

I have made writing into my duty. No. Life has made my duty of writing . That´s closer to the truth. Or is that last thought just my way to hide from myself that I am addicted to writing? I get itchy when I don´t for a while. As if I’m cheating my responsibility.

A group of friends and I have been chilling out and running through Heidiland for the last couple of days. There’s no internet. We swim, we eat, we drink, we climb and lavish on life. Meanwhile, a part of me feels the need to make an unknown contribution. It has been several weeks since I´ve taken up the pen, and now that it´s touching my notebook again, it feels as if a certain amount of built up pressure naturaly releases itself into the paper. At the time I wrote down the title, it felt as if my nervosity was linked to the fact that we’re without internet access for a week, but the stream that just opened between my belly and the paper reveals otherwise.

The more general thing is that I need to feel usefull.  Establish something. Add some value to life somehow. Being in the richest country in the world, surrounded by the ideal of succes, adds the feeling that I’m doing it wrong. And not being able to participate in my daily reality doesn´t make it easier.

I think that being usefull to the wider society is tempting because it is a morally responsible way of distracting ourselves from… well, from what actually? Our inner contradictions perhaps? Our obsession with solving them? From thoughts that emerge out of the darkness? From the actual darkness? Then again, I believe that real usefullness also confronts you with the darkness you try to run from. As a way to devour it. Digest it.

I expected I was missing my life and that internet was a way to access it. Yet what I was missing in this case was the feeling of pen on paper. My way to contemplate. What I needed to see is that I had to adjust to a different kind of balance: that of a group on holidays, where all of us have to look for our own ways to put our talents into practice, while the mountains make us feel small.

Being off the net together symbolizes that. Facing your life from a distance. Confronting the question of use. Reinventing the answer.

Becoming a collective

The World Parks Congress ended about three days ago. No more running around on the lookout for people to interview. Team buddies Lilian and Johannes left straightaway; back to Bonn and Beijing. Tom´s road parted from mine in Bombaderry:  gotta love the Aussie village names. I am now writing in the train from Kiala to Sydney. The melancholy in my heart helps me perceive the soothing charge of the rocky, wild beachscape passing by outside.

The video we made with the YPMC was received with a standing ovation induced by Daniela, who presented it. It was made as a voice for our generation of environmentalists. It starts with “we are a collective”. That means that we´re a community, a network of young brothers and sisters, dispersed all over the world. It believe it is true: indeed we are a collective, indeed, we act for nature, but more importantly: this is only a start for collective action. Or it can be.

One of the main questions heard at such congresses is: “what do you do?” It is perhaps because of the way they are set up, the way they are funded and the contemporary imperative of presenting yourself in a pitch. People get paid to praise themselves. It has been like this for the young people as well. It has weakened us. A better question to ask would be: “what shall we do?”

Some of the things that the young people currently seem to do well are: getting other young people outside with a no walls campaign, stimulating the outreach of a rapper on nature and educating children on the importance of nature. They are important initiatives, but the world needs more than that. We need strong, well enforced laws that answer nature´s cry for help, we need massive divestment from fossil fuels into sustainable energies. We need well-being, not money, to be central in our decision-making. We simply need massive global reforms.

After some good talks with Tom on the road, I´d like to propose something to all young ‘changemakers’ who attended the World Parks Congress in Sydney last week. Those who identify with the term ´leaders of the future´. We´ve all been involved in empowering communities. We know the tricks to helping them have a voice. Yet where we failed so far, is where we forgot to apply this expertise to ourselves as a group. The real collective may have been presented to the congress, but it is not yet there.

We are probably the only group of young people who are this close to the big conservationist decisions ahead. Probably among the young ones with the biggest potential to make the big changes. We know each other, and we have each others trust. We have support from our elders. We have well-established networks, though we lack the overview. Let´s change the nature of our presence at these congresses, and indeed ´lead by example´. Let´s shift the motivation of our visit to co-creating something that has impact. Raise funds for that. The next time we visit a congress, perhaps Hawaii, let´s take time to represent not ourselves to each other, but our community to the world. Let´s work towards coherence and infect the crowd with it. Use our joint presence to create something we think is important.

To reach this, I think it´s crucial that we all stay in close touch on the longer term. Build a closed digital platform, meet up. Share our expertise to build a collective CV. Let´s listen to each others opinions, gain insight in our common strengths and weaknesses. Dreams and worries. Discover our real potential. Without drifting away. We commit to this, remember?

The first question is easy: what can I contribute and how much time do I want to spend on it? The rest will follow. We could map our networks, find out what we lack. Look for leverage for change. Together we can create something that really is bigger than us. Acting local has been great, but let´s bring this to a bigger level. Let´s become the collective and act globally.

Higher up

“What do you do for living nowadays?”
“I’m unemployed.”
I think I say it that way to see people’s reactions. It started out as a truth, now it is just the simplest way to describe my situation. With few exceptions, when I speak the magic word, people’s expressions turn grim.

I was born and raised in Luxembourg, one of the richest countries in the world. I have always had everything I needed and more. On very rare occasions have I saved up money to buy something I longed for, simply because when the toy phase ended, there was nothing material I desired except for food. Now, my fixed costs are ridiculously low, my dad gives me a bit of support and I have an irregular income from a zero hours contract. I do spend some effort applying for jobs to take a step up the financial hierarchy.

It has been two and a half years now since I graduated. At first I was ambitious, motivated, disciplined. I wrote four to five applications per week, moved to the big city, consciously entering a new phase. I had diverse applicable experience, spoke four languages, had an open personality and felt good about myself. The initial enthusiasm backfired after, say, nine months, when things did not work out as planned. The perpetual rejections had carved wrinkles on my self-image. Then came a dip.

Being down usually helps me look at things from a different angle. I became aware that I still have more than I possibly need. The time and the location in which I was born were an exceptionally lucky shot. I began to feel that this striving for a job or whatever it is people strive for, is important, but that it should not rule a life. Then, I saw that many people with jobs indeed overvalue them. For some they are prisons. I wrote Awards.

In people’s repeating “empathic” reactions, I see that they don’t look into my joie de vivre, but at a status. They look at their assumptions, fuelled, no doubt by fears that hold them on the spot. The career ideal has grown wild. Perhaps that can only be seen from the sideline.

Tree peace, bee peace

The presence of big mammals shows that an ecosystem is healthy. Thus, if we ensure existence of mammals, we protect the environment. This idea underlies many of the nature conservation programs and fuels most of the conservation debate in the Netherlands and the rest of the world.

If you hear news about Dutch nature, it is focussed on a single wolf, a single whale, or in a good case a single bee species. Why? I think because of the limits of the human mind. We cannot cope with complex information. We do not feel in control of things we do not understand. We can’t make plans for them. It is the mental illness of our time.

In the past century, the Dutch biodiversity has decreased at a steady rate. At the same time people were trying to do good by making plans to preserve their favourite plants and animals. Species they didn’t notice vanished under their reign. Very surprising.

A Dutch guy recently coined the term topnatuur, meaning top quality nature containing large mammals. He framed it as a way to draw tourists. Nature as a way to make money. All we have to do, is to prove that it’s good enough. Because let’s face it: our nature is better than yours. A respectable ecologist who made an incredible fool out of himself and got away with it.

If we focus on a few target species for conservation, what we truly do is speak the language of the very forces that threaten these ecosystems. It means that we are entering a debate, that we are starting a war, by attempting to impose new ideals. What we really need is peace.

Without our help natural systems work in far more complex and harmonious ways than the human mind can imagine. On the long run, our obsession to save the aspects we selected is probably more harmful than beneficial. All we can do to preserve our global ecosystem, is to let it be. Not harm it.

We should admit that the comfortable material wealth we long for fuels the hugest threats to our own base. We are the big mammals that can survive only in a healthy ecosystem. We need to admit that our dreams to excel make us murder ourselves.

I believe that to survive, we don’t need to learn to understand and control nature, but we need to learn to trust it and surrender.

Freedom

Today is Dutch liberation day. It is exactly 68 years ago that the Americans hunted the Germans of these lands. An occasion to contemplate what freedom means, if not “being able to live in peace”. It is an interesting concept about which I still think quite often. Is that typical for men?

Some say the West is free. Is that the same as saying that the people living in the West are free? If we are indeed free, then what does that mean? That we have money? That we are able to choose whatever we do with our lives? To be the navigator of our own ships? Reach our Dreams?

Okay, so one way to explain freedom, is by the extent to which we can reach our dreams. But we can go deeper. Who chooses our dreams? Say a person’s dream is to earn money. Then having a lousy job would make that person free, right? The boss would be the liberator. But often, when a person has money, he or she would like to have more. The same is true for meaning. There is a point when our dreams become our prison. At that point, freedom means letting the dream go. It means to be satisfied.

So is a satisfied citizen a free citizen? I wouldn’t always say so. I have met many people who slowly but gradually grew trapped in their satisfied lives. People on a comfortable position, whose light seemed to be dimming. They wouldn’t always admit it, but sometimes you can tell. Then again, how do you break out of satisfaction? By losing everything, perhaps?

I’ve personally always felt freest while hitchhiking. But I know that if I’d do that all the time, it would not feel the same. So I need balance. My girlfriend recently asked me what freedom means. To my own surprise, I answered quite quickly. “To not be guided by fears”. I think I’ll stick with that definition for now. Until it becomes my mask.

Hiding the truth

Ever unspoken? To unspeak is to magically change the meaning of an action or event by framing it differently. Steven Poole applied this word to politics, but it reaches far, far further. It’s a subtle act, quite vulgar if used it for crowd manipulation.

Why do we speak about job creation and not about job destruction? Someone seems to want credit there. Which of the two is real? Another one: if you copy a file but someone else doesn’t like that, it’s called piracy. Why not multiplication? If anything, this last word is closer to the truth. In this case it is unfortunate for the inventor of the word that Johnny Depp has made the pirate into a hero. Last example: safety. Probably the top argument to rob another from his freedom. It implies a threat. Short comment on that: who implies a threat, creates a threat.

Once detected, cases are easily popped. Unspeaking effectively, however, means choosing your words with such care that it is not easily discovered. An effective choice of words acts like blinders to our vision. It directs your attention, avoiding your mind from going anywhere else than where it was planned to go by somebody who thought it through before you.

So, once again, do you unspeak? Ever told someone that he has to earn money (instead of doing something he doesn’t want to)? Ever advised someone to be considerate of a third person’s feelings (instead of telling the truth)? Ever told someone to go on a holiday (instead of heaving himself checked at a mental hospital)?  I suppose we all unspeak on some level. Perhaps we are trying to avoid anger.

A more interesting question here is perhaps: why do we accept it? Why do we keep ourselves in the dark? Are we really sheep?

Call to the aged

“Hello, is this Mr. Havik?”
“That’s me”
“I am calling you on behalf of the pension fund. Have you thought through your pension yet?”
“No I haven’t”
“Do you mind if we ask you some questions about it?”
“I’m sorry, miss, but I don’t believe in pension funds.”
She was irritated and astonished when she hung up.

I have talked this topic through with several friends of my age. It am not the only one who doesn’t believe in pensions anymore. We are the live-for-the-moment generation. Raised in a world possibilities, we have been taught that all that matters is that we do what we like.

If you, reader, are above fifty and have worked hard all your life to collect a stash for a lean-back old age, I’m sorry to inform you that I believe your final years may become harder than you expect. To put it simply: the system of the pension is based on investments in companies that grow. In a shrinking society, withdrawing money from the current situation equals removing it from businesses that need them. You will consume the wealth you created. But as lifestyles have expanded, you will consume it too quickly.

But let me ask you: why have you cast your money into the future in the first place? Did you really think that would keep you safe? Or was it an excuse to stop wondering about the things you could do to keep the earth from turning into a barren ball in space?

The older generations will need their cash, so it should be paid. The wave of prosperity they surf will take its toll for as long as life standards remain high. Meanwhile, the younger generation has seen MTV grow from a creative collective into a mass of shiny show-offs. We’ve seen banks pop and now we witness how we run out of oil. We are learning what our preceding generations have forgotten: you don’t protect your future by saving money. You do it by opening up to the world as it is. It is not in the future but in the cycles of the seasons, where our safety should be sought.

We, the young ones, will have to take over the weight that our parents lifted. We’ll have to place it down gently, hoping our backs will not break. I think we’ll see the day in which value is expressed in food and love again. The young generation will have to show the world what self-sufficiency really means. Please, aged reader, help us with that, even while you are retired.

Will you?