New Directions

Leo's World

I have been thinking a lot about my goals and how they tie into the writing that I do. The first thing is that I do not write nearly as often as I should. This is true from a marketing standpoint, as any book about blogging or marketing will tell you. It is also true from an intellectual standpoint. I should be practicing expressing my ideas much oftener than I have up to now.

I guess if you are setting out to be a writer, the proof of the pudding is in actually having written material available to people on a regular basis. My habit of writing something once a month, or every other month, is not doing me any favors. I have to do something about that.

I am giving up on the blog How to Get There. I started it because I am interested in strategy, wisdom…

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Christianity and Tax Policy

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you,
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard.

Isaiah 58: 7-8

I am a catholic. My worldview is greatly affected by the fact that I am a christian. The above quote was part of the first reading at church this morning. I was greatly touched by this reading.

I think that most people would start looking at their own actions upon hearing this reading. I did. But I am also a trained public administrator. I also thought about tax policy.

We all pay taxes in one way or another, regardless of what Republican politicians would like us to think. And yes, taxes pay for benefits to the poor. I don’t necessarily enjoy paying taxes, but I don’t begrudge what they do either.

When I was thinking about it, I think of the Republican position on taxes. Low taxes are fine, but the net effect of Republican tax policy has been to concentrate wealth in the hands of the wealthy. I am not just using this as an excuse to beat up on Republicans. Don’t get the idea that I am a fan of Democrats; they have been complicit the entire time.

There is evidence that transfer payments work in fighting poverty. However, we are more apt to think about “welfare queens” when we think about welfare programs then we are likely to think about poverty alleviation. Then conservative politicians attack government efforts to fight poverty on the basis that government is ineffective at everything it does. Yet, these same politicians have nothing to say about transfer payments to corporations. Their problem seems to be with transfer payments to poor people.

My guess is that politicians would rather see money go to the wealthy because the wealthy are more likely to give campaign donations to politicians. Besides, the politicians are likely to be wealthy themselves. They are taking care of themselves.

When transfer payment money goes to a major corporation your taxes are subsidizing shareholders and corporate profits. I cannot guarantee that a poor person will use a transfer payment to buy food above beer, but I know a corporation will use transfer payments to enrich itself and its shareholders. The accumulation of wealth does not increase economic opportunity. It concentrates wealth in the hands of people who already have more money than they could ever spend.

I can admit, there are problems with welfare programs for the poor. I don’t think we should scrap welfare programs because some people are abusing the system. I do think those problems can be solved. But morally, are we a better nation for allowing our tax monies to accumulate in the hands of the rich rather than trickle down to the poor?

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Should life be easy?

One of the local radio stations I listen to, KPFK, has a health and spirituality hour in the afternoon that I often listen to while I eat my lunch. The hosts of the individual shows (there are four different hosts, each with their own show  (one comes on two days in a row)) seem to know what they are talking about, though occasionally I think the guests are full of shit, but most of it is pretty interesting. Each show approaches its subject matter from a different perspective, but all of the shows generally discuss how to change your life for the better. Transformation is a recurrent theme on all of them.

Every once in a while there is a guest who says that life is meant to be easy. I am not thinking of any one of these shows in particular, all of the shows have had someone say this. We are not supposed to worry or work too hard or stress about anything, if only we live our life for its true purpose than all will be made clear, and through the grace of God our lives will be made easy. Or something to that effect.

I think that it is a fascinating concept. It reminds me of the stories of Jesus, how all he had to do was say the word and suddenly there was enough wine for the wedding guests, or enough fishes and loaves to feed the multitudes. Wherever Jesus walked, the way was made easy for him, at least if you forget about the whole crucifixion thing.

I have been giving this idea some thought. If you take what these people are telling you to heart, then it makes you wonder what you are doing to bring discomfort and pain and suffering and difficulty into your life. It lays the blame for anything bad that happens to you at your feet. The more I thought about this, the more it sounded like bullshit to me.

There are times when we are responsible for the troubles we have, times when we can be our own worst enemy. And though I am all for the idea of taking responsibility for what and who I am, I do not have control over everything that happens in my life. I do not control other people, or the economy, or what is happening in the world. There are some things I can only react to.

That, I believe, is where we find our grace. How we react to things that are beyond our control. Our grace, or our lack thereof, shows itself in the choices we make. The choices we make, however large or small, stupid or profound, will affect us for the rest of our lives.

I have read that a tree, if protected from the winds while it grows, will be blown down by the first strong gust it encounters. I believe we are the same. We are the people we are because of the trials and travails we have endured and overcome, and failed to overcome. We have to keep in mind that Jesus is not the savior without the crucifixion.

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Strategy Made Simple

Over the years I have learned a thing or two about strategy. Up to now that knowledge has mostly been not very easy to explain. I have reread all of my previous posts on this blog that dealt with strategy and I admit that none of them makes understanding how to do strategy any easier. I would liken what I have written so far to the parable of the blind men and the elephant. I have written about parts of strategy, without providing an adequate framework for explaining how people could put it to work for themselves.

Now, I believe I’ve had a breakthrough which will allow me to more easily explain strategy to anyone. It occurred to me that the principles of strategy can be broken down into 3 simple parts: purpose, planning, and progress. The alliteration should make it easy to remember, plus, I happen to like alliteration.

After a little thought, I ended up with this:

Purpose (See Intent and Defining the Problem)

  • What are you doing?
  • Why are you doing it?

Planning (See Objectives vs. Goals, Strategy vs. Tactics, and More on Tactics)

  • Who?
  • What?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • What if?

Progress (See ActionSWOT Analysis, and Evaluation)

  • Successes
  • Failures
  • Conflicts
  • Changes

This covers every question you need to answer to develop a working strategic plan. Of course, there are many tools and techniques that can be used to add detail and complexity to your plan, but they are not necessary. This framework can get you where you need to go. I think it works.

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Marianne Williamson drops some wisdom

I just came from an event (co-sponsored by KPCC and Vroman’s Bookstore) featuring Marianne Williamson. She was discussing her latest book ‘The Law of Divine Compensation.’ My wife is a fan of hers; I haven’t yet read any of her books. I must say, however, that she did share some wonderful wisdom.

She read from chapter 11 of her book. I could not repeat her verbatim, but I think I got the gist. She was reading about the difference between a job and a calling. A job is the trading of time and services for money, whereas a calling is doing something you really enjoy doing, whether or not you receive remuneration. She said that opportunities will open up to you if you are brave enough to pursue your calling. I agree, doing what you like to do can make you happy whether or not you ever get rich from it.

I also liked what she had to say about living in a spiritual plane versus living in the material plane. She said to live in the spiritual world is to not have to deal with the scarcity of the material world. It is about pointing your gaze toward creativity and possibility and the infinite, rather than dealing with the imperfections of the real world. It is really an argument about keeping a positive attitude.

However,  there is something to be said about not living with your head in the clouds, either. She did state that we each must walk our own roads. I guess that is a nice way of saying that we have to find some happy medium that works for us.

Ms. Williamson had a nice, easily digestible way of explaining some old metaphysical ideas. This may read like a complaint, but the fact is that it is sometimes very hard to explain metaphysical ideas. They don’t make easy sense. I am very glad I went with my wife to see her. I now plan on reading her new book, after my wife finishes it, of course.

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More thoughts on success

I have been feeling very successful as of late. I didn’t win any prize nor did I achieve some goal I have been pursuing for a long time. What I did was much more basic and simple. I am successful because I am facing a crisis and I have been able to survive.

My 18 year old daughter was crossing a street a few months ago and was run over by a drunk driver (you can read more details about that here). She was taken to a nearby trauma hospital and they were able to stabilize her. Now she is being cared for in a rehabilitation hospital. She is recovering and has a long and difficult road in front of her.

The success part is that I am in a position to pay for all of this. Now I don’t pay for all of this myself; I have a good job with excellent health insurance benefits. I have worked for years, but I have not always had a decent salary or benefits. For me the victory is that this happened at a time when I am stable and have the resources to deal with such a catastrophic event.

Over the past couple of months while I have been sitting around in hospitals, I have had the opportunity to watch what happens to people in similar circumstances and think about it. The first two hospitals my daughter was in were both Catholic hospitals. They were private facilities, but the Catholic part of their administration brings with it a sense that there is some idea of charity involved in what they do.

The hospital she is in now is strictly a for profit institution. There is nothing wrong with that, they are doing an excellent job. However, I shudder to think where my daughter might be if I didn’t have the health insurance available to me to pay for the care she is receiving. My daughter will survive, and hopefully prosper in the future, because I have the necessary resources to take care of her. That is no accident. I have worked for years to keep my family fed and healthy. For many of those years it seemed that perhaps I might be wasting money paying for insurance and setting aside money for emergencies.

I am a success right now because I have a decent job, health insurance, and a supportive family. Having the resources to weather a storm doesn’t seem like much, but it is enough.  To survive is the ultimate success. To survive with the resources to continue makes that success a little sweeter.

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I had planned on being able to do an in depth analysis of Sun Tzu’s classic book on strategy, ‘The Art of War.’ As inevitably happens in every life, things change. I have been unable to spend the necessary time going through the book with a fine tooth comb as I would have liked to do.

Still, I think it is a good idea and an exciting project. I will continue to work on it on a much longer time-table. I can only get to it on occasion and will work on this as time allows.

Besides, my inability to get through it was depressing me. Add to this that I have had some really good ideas for posts that I couldn’t get to because I felt I had to finish the Sun Tzu project first.  So I am putting aside the Sun Tzu project for now to focus on writing posts again.

I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. I hope to provide some interesting ideas in the meantime. Thank you for your patience.

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