Just a Little More?

Fifteen miles from my home is Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Its primary claim is the setting for the infamous ride of the Headless Horsemen – the author of which ironically was eventually buried there.

Perhaps less well-known is its status as the resting place of perhaps the richest collection of wealthy individuals this country has known. The names are a who’s who of American wealth — Astor, Dodge, Chrysler, Rockefeller, Watson and Carnegie.  

Most their graves are lavish mausoleums or memorials. Carnegie’s, however, is a little different. It is adorned with a modest Celtic cross — the graves of he and his wife marked by simple grave plates.

And as a symbol of the paradox of wealth, Carnegie’s plot also includes the graves of three others – all long time servants to he and his wife.

Some may see this gesture as an act of kindness and friendship, while others could view it as a sign of inequality and privilege.

In his lifetime, Carnegie could be ruthless. He pressed his advantages, leveraged his power, to skyrocketing levels of wealth.

He believed that a person’s life was to be divided into two halves; the first involved making money and the second giving it away. To that end, Carnegie gave 90% of his fortune away during his lifetime, and the balance when he died (a total of $4.8 billion in today’s dollars). To his only daughter and wife, he left a small trust.  As a result, none of his present day heirs claim his riches, or for that fact his name.

Rockefeller was, if anything, more ruthless in his business practice. His approach to philanthropy was slightly different, as his fortune was both passed down from generation to generation and given away over time. The Rockefeller name and fortune continue – with family assets estimated at $16 billion today.

As a youth, Rockefeller said his goal was to make a $100,000 and live to be a hundred (he made it to 97). 

As an adult, when his wealth had already tacked on three more zeros beyond his goal, a reporter asked him, “How much money is enough?” His reply, “Just a little bit more.”

Rockefeller’s sentiment may seem cold but does it ,  veer far away from the prevailing thoughts of today? Maximize wealth and advantage while you can, and pass it on to your children. Give what you don’t need away to good causes.

But how much do we need?  “Just a little more”

Recent news underscores the issue with this approach: growing class tensions, parents using bribes to get their children into college, politicians calling for wealth taxes, populist uprisings on both sides of the political spectrum.

Which brings us back to the answer given by Rockefeller a hundred years ago.

What if instead of answering the question, “How much money is enough?”, those same four words were the response to each of these questions?
 

– How much could we be taxed?
– How much should we give away?
– How much should we share the wealth with those we work with?
– How much confidence should we have in our children to succeed without our help?
– How much should we question how our wealth is acquired?
– How much should we think of others before ourselves?

Just a little more.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

Do You Suffer from ERI?

If you’re like me, until recently you never even heard of ERI, let alone know if you suffer from it.

The term, coined by Johannes Siegrist, senior professor at the University of Dusseldorf, stands for Effort/Reward Imbalance.

The idea is that we all make a mental calculation when it comes to work. How does what I’m putting in compare to what I’m getting out of it?

In this insightful article on the topic from the Guardian, the author quotes Siegrist, saying there are two types of imbalance. “You can either do too little and receive too much or do too much and receive too little.”

In both cases, these imbalances can prove to be unhealthy. For those whose effort is great and reward small, it has been linked to heart problems and depression. 

Surprisingly and perhaps less sympathetically, those on the other end who may feel their reward is unearned may also experience mental health issues. 

So what is our response? 

Well because no one likes to feel off balance, we recalculate our Effort/Reward for ourselves and dangerously for others.

We overstate our effort while understating those of others. And we minimize our own reward while overstating the reward of others. 

In the process we throw shade on others in the form of guilt or shame. 

The problem is both effort and reward are hard to quantify in our own lives let alone try to judge in others. 

Both effort and reward are relative. They vary from day to day. They are both a point in time and a reflection of a lifetime of activity

So what is one to do?

If you’re reward is in excess of your effort — work harder… for others.

If you’re doing too much and receiving too little — demand more… with and from others.

You see the solution to ERI is not something we will find in our own heads but something we must seek in the company of others. 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

The Best Book I’ve Read in Years

The best books forever change the way you see something – and that is what The Overstory has done for me and my connection to nature – and specifically trees.

It is hard to describe, so I will start with these three  passages from different parts of the book:

That’s the trouble with people, their root problem. Life runs alongside them, unseen…A chorus of living wood sings to the woman: If your mind were only a slightly greener thing, we’d drown you in meaning.

As the lady officer in the station takes her fingerprints, she feels, for the first time since her father’s death, like she’s given the day everything it wanted.
 

The essay flickers under his fingers. He can’t follow it, can’t decide whether it’s brilliant or rubbish. His whole self is dissolving. All his rights and privileges, everything he owns. A great gift that has been his since birth is being taken away. It’s a grand luxurious act of self-deceit, an outright lie, that claim of Kant’s: “As far as nonhumans are concerned, we have no direct duties. All exists merely as means to an end. That end is man.”

The book is chiefly about connections – with each other, with previous and future generations and with nature and the living world. Trees play a prominent role, some might consider them characters or catalysts of the plot itself.

In reading the book (full disclosure, I’m not even finished yet), it has been an act of pure discovery and humility.  

It does not overtly advocate for us to change how we see the world or to become better stewards of our environment. Yet by allowing me to reflect on what it had to say, it has done just that.

It is embarrassing that I can’t name but a few trees I come across in nature or have such little appreciation for the life one has lived and given.  

To think that we pass trees that have been in our backyards since before the revolutionary war and don’t bat an eyelash or pause to marvel at it’s journey north to the sky, south into the soil and across one generation to the next.

We cut them down without hesitation. Waste their by products, like paper, without a second thought to its source.  Blind to how truly connected we are, we cut their noses and spite our own faces. 

Knowing the name of a thing is the first step to seeing its value and protecting it. Stopping to reflect on its journey the second. Sharing that journey with others, the third.

Consider this shared. Here is a link to buy a copy (it’s printed on recycled paper), or better yet, download it or reserve it at your local library.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.

What Kind of Neighbor are You?

Consider these three stories:
 
A couple in Newton Massachusetts give birth to a daughter who is deaf.  In response, twenty of their neighbors learn sign language and have been speaking to that child regularly for the last two years.  Rather than having to travel hours away to learn how to sign at a school for the deaf, the little girl is able to stay in her community and learn by signing with her family and friends.
 
In my town, Hastings-on-Hudson, the high school wanted to put on a production of Hairspray. The play is homage to diversity, acceptance and integration.  Because the student body isn’t itself diverse racially, they invited students from nearby towns Yonkers, Stamford and the Bronx to join their cast.  The show is a hit – on every imaginable level.
 
In the recent documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighborthere is a scene recounting when Mr. Rogers invited the postman, Mr. McFeely, to come soak his feet in his pool.  This is a response to the resistance at the time to allowing African Americans to swim in the same public pools as their white neighbors.  This decent man in a small public television studio in Pittsburgh transmitted a powerful signal to the country.
 
The origin of the word neighbor comes from combining an old English word “neah” meaning “near” and the Germanic word “bheue” meaning “to be, exist, grow.”
 
Together they suggest something so elemental to our existence – the importance of connecting with those around us in order to grow or add meaning to our lives.
 
There is an oft-cited phrase that fences make good neighbors.  Some today might extend that to include walls.
 
These three stories demonstrate how short-sited that aphorism is – as these barriers limit our ability to truly see other people.
 
Whether the neighbor is next door in Newton, the next town over from Hastings or spanning across the airwaves and state lines as in Mr. Rogers.  It is the lack of fences, walls, and boundaries – both literal and psychological – that allow us to fulfill this most fundamental part of being alive and growing.

Being a good neighbor asks us to see everyone – not just those next door or in our town – but across all borders – as someone with whom we share our planet and humanity.  Someone with whom if we gave the time to be welcoming, we might both grow from that experience.

What kind of neighbor are you?
 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

What Do You Do in Line?

I recently heard the writer and sociologist, Arlie Russell Hochschild describe the discontent many feel in the country today.  It was from her acclaimed book,Strangers in Their Own Land, and was captured in the following metaphor:
 
“You’re waiting in line for the American dream that you feel you very much deserve. It’s like waiting in a pilgrimage, and the line isn’t moving. Your feet are tired. You feel you are properly deserving of this reward that’s ahead. And the idea is, you don’t begrudge anyone in this right deep story. You’re not a hateful person. But then you see… somebody cutting ahead of you. Why are they getting special treatment?
 
Then, in another moment, the president of the country, Barack Obama, who should be tending fairly to all waiters-in-line, seems to be waving to the line cutters. In fact, “Is he a line cutter?” — the idea is. How did his mother — she was a single mother, not a rich woman — afford a Harvard education, a Columbia education? Something fishy happened. That was the thought there.”
 
In a final moment, someone from the coasts, someone highly educated, someone from that so-called elite, turns around, and they’re really close to the prize, or they have the prize. But they turn around and look at the others who are waiting in line and say, “Oh, you backward, Southern, ill-educated, racist, sexist, homophobic redneck.”  That is the estranging thing, that insult.”
 
The power of metaphors is their ability to reveal deeper insights into our thinking about a particular topic.  

And in hearing hers, it illuminates the following truths about how we see mobility in this country:
 
We generally don’t understand how we end up in our place in line.

We have even less knowledge about how other people get their place in line

We don’t know why the line moves for some and not for others.

And finally, we spend too much time judging others in the line and too little figuring out how to make the line move faster for all of us.

What do you do when you’re in line?
 

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up. 

What Will You Leave Behind in 2018?

With 2019 right around the corner, it is customary to look forward.  To set goals, create plans and, of course, make resolutions.  It is also an opportunity to reflect and look back.

Recently a friend told me that during a recent yoga class, the instructor asked everyone to reflect on the question, “what do you need to leave behind?”  In other words, what mindsets, behaviors or habits do you need to change if you want to be able meet those goals, follow through on those plans and keep those resolutions?

For some, it is easier said than done. The weights holding them down cannot be willed away.

Challenges like illness, mounting debt, and lack of opportunities can be debilitating and difficult to simply “leave behind.”

For others, limitations are of our own making. We form habits that are incompatible with the energy required to be our best selves.  Our thoughts are subject to mindsets that make excuses, deflect responsibility, and limit our options.

So as we say hello to 2019, what will you say goodbye to in 2018?

For me, it’s sayonara to sacrificing sleep, excessive time online, and a mindset that too often relies on validations from others.

Imagining how much more I could accomplish with more energy, time and internal motivation creates a vision of a 2019 where more goals are met, plans kept and resolutions realized. 

Some may say this seems simplistic and Pollyanna-ish but so too would thinking that I could accomplish much of anything vital without first leaving something unnecessary behind.

Thanks for reading the latest from Moving Up.