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January 13, 2009

The Economy and You in 2009

Eleven women from a wide variety of occupations including a real estate broker, a nurse, social service provider, an architect, an artist and a visiting Brazilian psychiatrist attended this living room dialogue on how the deteriorating economy is affecting our lives.

Since promoting skills of dialogue is one of the goals of the organization, the evening focused on improving listening skills as well as exploring the subject of the economy. Good listening skills are central to conducting effective dialogue, as program director Pamela Zivari reminded participants at the opening of the meeting.

During introductions, the participants said a few words about what brought them to the meeting. The most dramatically affected were the real estate broker, not surprisingly, and an older woman living on investments she said were worth half what they were 10 years ago. Most said they came to the meeting out of concern for what they may be facing in the future and that they felt a need to get together with others at this time of crisis.

The meeting opened with two listening exercises. In the first, participants took turns in pairs answering the question "How do you feel the economic situation is affecting you and the people you know? During this "Deep Listening," one person spoke for three minutes while the other listened without comment. Participants then were asked what the experience was like for them. One comment from a listener who already knew her partner in the exercise beforehand was "I found I loved you even more than I did before." Others commented that having a time to speak without interruption helped them explore thoughts they hadn't articulated before and, one said, didn't even know she had.

The second exercise was an active listening exercise during which the partners were to listen to one another in turns but in addition the listener was to summarize what she heard the speaker saying and ask clarifying question about what she heard. The question was "What changes might you make or steps might you take as a result of the economic downturn?"

The whole group was then invited to say something about what they had thought about during the evening. A range of the opinions voiced have been grouped together in the following paragraphs:

The discussion continued along these lines: How can people recognize what is enough? People are not always sensible. Some people may not be able to notice when they have enough. Parents feel sad about things they cannot give their children and feel evaluated by what they give. Self-reflection is very important- how am I relating to the reality? The resources of the planet are not infinite and a new feeling is arising that we cannot live in the same way forever. The problem is one of distribution. The earth is not going to get bigger. Neither capitalism or socialism is the answer; it's time for new ideas.

A huge majority of people in this country are at their limit. Lots of people have no resources to fall back on. Where is all the money for government programs going to come from? Will people be able to pay more taxes?

About the relation of this country to the world, some had this to say: How come we think that this country gets to set a standard for the rest of the world. We have shown no humility and no remorse. When is enough, enough? It's beyond issues; it's about morality, ethics. The country has avoided looking in the mirror. Our country has become a world-wide bully.

One participant brought the conversation back to personal experience. She said that spending money is an addiction, a disease we have to address. People go out and buy in order to avoid feeling something. We live in an addictive society. When troubled you smoke a cigarette or go out and buy something. Children are always wanting things when they have piles of toys. This is the way our commercial life is designed; it's the way we live. Changing policies doesn't work. People are missing something. This participant had begun studying Buddhism because it helps her to be in the present.

Another questioned a government strategy of putting more money in our pockets through tax rebates so we can buy more. One person wondered how we can replace the consumer economy we now have - some 60% of the economy is based on consumer spending. Another wondered about all the jobs that would be lost if people stopped buying so much "stuff."

Wall Street and Big Business were invoked. One person commented that this country was settled by risk-takers. This was helpful in the beginning but has been taken to an extreme and we are suffering the consequences. Another said that Wall Street is a big Las Vegas; they are there to gamble. If you do not regulate they will cheat. We should hold government responsible for not watching them. Who gives a CEO the right to make his own retirement plan?

Comments about our personal responsibility followed: The whole country is in this situation. Family and commercial values have been discarded. The minority of people who tried to make a different kind of life, such as communal life, have been marginalized. White people have benefitted particularly and have taken the whole country down. There has been a breakdown of community that prevents us from marching on Washington together. We have been brainwashed. People don't have time to get together to talk

But, on the contrary, we ARE taking time to talk. Pamela announced that the second meeting in this series of three on the economy will take place Feb. 24 at 6:30 at the East Side Institute.


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