What do Motherhood, Women’s Issues and International Cooperation on Development have in common?

While the smarter lot of you mentally ennumerate the common denominator of these three most important aspects of my life, let me get ahead and share what’s on my mind: MEDDLERS. I’m thinking about meddlers.

1. Motherhood and meddlers

I’ve only been a mother for 20 months, and one thing I can tell you for sure is that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the same problem suffered by babies and mothers. Despite of this fact, there are those who still insist on imposing their beliefs, recipes and answers on other people.

Generally, I’ve observed that mothers are usually open to suggestions. Yet, I can’t help but notice the initial reactions to an advice they reject: insistence, further display of proof on the recommendation’s effectiveness, openly unfair judgement and finally, criticism. Surely, one should not have to go through all these just because they decide not to follow an advice. As for the “well-meaning” purveyors of knowledge… don’t they understand the fact that each of us is molded by our particular circumstances, pasts, beliefs and aspirations? Therefore, the solutions or remedies we end up choosing are adapted to our unique situation.

I always wonder whether “wanting the best” for the mother and the baby is the real reason why some people really force their opinion on others. The way I see it, if somebody truly desires the best for the other, then there must first be comprehension: of the problem, of the context and most importantly, of the diversity. This would allow for a better flow of communication. This would facilitate the process of achieving that “best” for the person in need.

In my short experience in motherhood, I learned that happy babies (a common goal for parents) result from being well-fed, well-rested and being around happy caretakers. Equally important is the confidence with which their caretakers do their jobs: if the caretaker is relaxed, the baby is most probably also going to be relaxed. So basically for me, what would really help mothers taking care of a baby is to feel empowered, to have self-confidence and be convinced that they’re doing a good job in raising a human being. The rest can be learned from books and online fora.

I’m lucky to be living where I am, to have resources that I could tap and people who truly support me. This period of my life would be much tougher otherwise.

2. Women’s Issues: when the champions become the meddlers

Currently, I find that that the foundation of women’s rights movement from the past has been eroded in time. I’m talking about solidarity and compassion. These two characteristics are strongly present in the feminine and have fueled the fight for women’s freedom and equality (equity) with men. Lately I’ve been noticing though, that a lot of arguments supporting the advancement of women’s rights sound more of a modern-day colonization than a genuine concern for our sisters’ well-being and progress. By “wanting the best” for all of us women, the very champions for our rights and development are forgetting that even though women may have the same basic needs and rights, the manner of procuring what they need, and the way with which they exercise their rights (if ever they choose to, at all) should be delegated to them- they know better than us what it means in their own societies to advance and progress. They know better than us how they want to live their own lives.

Consider how women’s rights movements started locally, where women gathered and started the battle for a more just treatment socially, economically, and politically, to name a few. When globalization came about, it was only natural for these initiatives to be projected onto other territories, crossing the national frontiers. Even though the intention was (it still is) noble, the explanation of its necessity as well as the method of implementing it are both flawed. Flawed because I believe some activists skipped a couple of vital steps in order to practice solidarity and compassion: inquiring and then listening. One can’t help but think some simply assumed that women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the exact same concerns as the ones living in Phoenix, Arizona.

From then on, a certain type of mentality has been imposed and women who did not adhere to such beliefs were criticized and in some cases, even marginalized by those who were supposedly fighting for their sake. Ironic.

3. International Cooperation on Development: helping or meddling?

When I graduated from college, the main lesson that really stuck was: “There is not a ‘one-size-that-fits-all’ solution to the same problem experienced by two or more different groups/communities. The answer should always be adapted to the specificities of each situation. “

The goal of exerting efforts towards cooperation for international development is to redistribute resources: from those who have them to those who do not. Obviously. Easy enough to understand. Now comes the dilemma of “how” to do it.

Studies have already proven that solutions imposed by developed countries with no grassroots basis usually end up becoming a waste: of money, time, effort and natural resources. Any Developmental Economist would agree that the solutions must come from a collaborative effort between the one who’s helping and the receiving end. That’s why it’s called “cooperation”, right?

However, it has always been the donor “wanting the best”, the donor’s criteria that seemed to dominate in this field: what they believe is “just”, what they think is “effective”, and what they “know those people need”. Thankfully, times are changing and workers in international cooperation are more sensitive to this topic. More and more, the aid given to a target community takes the form of enhancing the existing, local capacities rather than imposing a foreign technique. There is still a long way to go but awareness of this issue is already a big step forward.

Conclusions

While motherhood is a relatively new event in my life, it has deepened many notions in me, and is currently opening up other aspects of my understanding that I never even thought existed. On the contrary, women and development issues have always been part of my life, having grown up in a family whose bread and butter comes from the intent to make this world a better place.

Knowing what I know, I try to believe that it is truly the sense of compassion that moves people to torturously insist on the reliability of their solutions. I try to convince myself that they simply wish to see in others the same fruitful effects of their applied techniques.

Unfortunately, no two situations are equal. So basing on this, the person receiving the advice may consider that the proposed solution doesn’t fit his situation.

In my constant need to map out methods, this idea occurred to me: within the framework of “helping”, I suggest that under the “advice” category, two sub-categories be opened in the form of advice accepted and advice rejected. Help that was given or offered doesn’t have to end in relaying an opinion and leaving it as that. A person with a real concern to help, to make a change, would see if the other would take up on his counsel or not. And in the case where it is rejected, he would try to find out why; perhaps not to annoyingly try to solve the problem, but to learn.

Advice

Learning would mean the world between the meddlers and the “legit” bearers of help. An informed person in front of another who’s in a dilemma could do more by simply listening, than one who would blindly exert an effort to achieve a change in the situation.

I encourage you to think about it.

Adulting and Money Management 4: The Money that They Owe You

 PayMe.Candle.qkx

Image courtesy of: http://www.luckymojo.com

This article is inspired by several Facebook posts pertaining to the irony that it’s the money lender who feels shame when asking their money back, instead of the other way around. Especially when it comes to following up a late payment.

At first, after a talk with one of my friends, I thought that the main problem lies in assertiveness, or the lack of it. And then I thought that perhaps certain cultures encourage assertiveness, more than others but it really is not the question. I didn’t do the numbers, but it’s clear how what I thought was a cultural aspect in lending money, is actually a very personal choice of each son of a man. That is, the choice whether to “donate” or “collect” the amount of money that was lent.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, because even before a payment could be followed-up, there must have first been a pledge to do so.

I myself have rarely lent money to anyone, perhaps because I give the impression of being riff-raff (hahaha!). But whenever I did, I made sure both parties understood and agreed that the money being exchanged was a loan, and not a gift. And in the case where the money were a gift, I also made that very clear.

Risking to state the obvious, the difference between a loan and a gift is that the former has to be returned to the money lender at a given time, with a given interest rate. The latter is simply to be graciously accepted and appreciated.

Now, the problem with some people is they are easily caught by surprise and instead of thinking twice before lending money, they immediately agree to “giving” something that is to be returned “in the future”, “without haste”. In 98% of these cases, no payback ever takes place.

In the world of adulting, taking time to think before acting is basically lesson number 1. In the more specific town of adulting and money management, this moment for reflection becomes as necessary as breathing. Every cent counts, whether it be a past, present or a future cent of a currency. As thus, lending money means sacrificing having the “cents” today with a guarantee of getting them back in the future. In the case of giving, the former sentence would end after the word “sacrificing” and that would be it.

Personally, what I usually do when asked for a loan is to:

  1. Ask how much they need
  2. How urgent they need it
  3. When can they repay me
  4. How will they procure the money to repay me

If I’m satisfied with the answers to the former questions, I tell them that I’d think about it. Afterwards, I ask myself:

  1. How will lending a certain amount of money affect my budget until it gets repaid?
  2. Will I be alright if I never get to see that money again?

If, after analyzing my own situation, I still choose to lend my money, I make the following very clear when I finally decide to go ahead with the transaction:

  1. I make sure they understand that the money has to be returned
  2. I make sure that we both agree on the date of repayment (with or without interest)
  3. I would make them understand that although I don’t need that money now (and that’s why I can lend it to them), I would need it in the future.
  4. Depending on how much I trust the borrower, I would make him sign an agreement including a clause which mentions a possible collateral

(Are you still wondering why people don’t borrow money from me?)

You might be asking: what if, at the agreed date of repayment, the borrower refuses/cannot/does not return the money?

This is where the importance of assertiveness comes in. Being firm in reclaiming what is his own actually helps achieve the goal. And in the case they still refuse to pay you, then this is where a signed document would be useful.

In some instances, no amount of assertiveness can ever get a borrower to pay up. No matter how many touching, beautiful speeches are delivered, they wouldn’t budge. Because the truth is, the list that I wrote above- it’s just me. In real life, and depending on many other factors, the things I just said would be easier said than done.

So what is best advice I could give? be wise, and before you lend an important amount of money, make sure that your finances are sound enough in case you don’t get it back.

Happy lending!

 

10 Inputs for Rookie Employees (Fresh graduates, I see you!)

As I celebrate 10 years since my first employment, please allow me, dear reader to give unsolicited advice for those who, for the first time are reveling in the wonderful world that is: the workplace.

1- Just how urgent are urgent tasks?

They are pretty urgent. However, a common rookie mistake is to be stressed because their superiors would give them five tasks that are simultaneously labelled as URGENT. The more prepared interns/fresh graduates would pause and actually ask, “Okay, but which of these is the MOST urgent?”. To which the manager would respond, “All of them are equally urgent”. This is a lie. Because even if you, little grasshopper, are a wizard of all sorts and were able to finish all the tasks punctually, your manager CAN NOT POSSIBLY revise them all at the same time.

This is why I would suggest you rather ask, “Which of all these urgent tasks would you like to revise first? Could you give me a deadline for each of them?”. This means that your manager would have to sit down for 5 minutes with you and decide, say, Task 1 should be on his desk in 1 hour, Task 2 to be submitted in 2 hours, Task 3 in 2 hours and a half, etc… And if he refuses to do this, then feel at liberty to prioritize the work yourself.

Tip from my mother: If your manager DID sit down and classify the tasks with you, remember to write him an email confirming what you just talked about. This would be your safeguard against any future “misunderstandings”.

2- Gossiping is One Train You Should Not Hop On

Avoid gossip. Even if you’re only a “listener” and not a “contributor”, do not be around people who gossip. It’s a waste of time and it only brings distraction. Besides, being a “listener” is just as bad as contributing because it means tolerating trash talk about somebody who can’t give his side of the story.

If you want something cleared up, talk to the person face to face. Also, don’t criticize anyone behind their backs unless you’re 100% sure you can repeat the same words in front of them.

Most importantly: Don’t use gossip as a weapon if you’re not sure you can take the fire.

3- Doubts Will Arise

I know 40-year olds who are still not sure what they want to do with their current lives, let alone their future. So be kind to yourself and consider that as a young person starting to explore a new world, it’s only natural to feel doubtful and undecided about things.

NEVER be afraid to take a step back and evaluate your situation. If you feel the need to go back to studying, take a sabbatical, change career directions, or whatever you feel that could make you grow, go for it.

Still, it’s absolutely important that you be clear on your purpose. Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” Is it for the money? for personal needs? for professional fulfillment? or for sheer curiosity? Afterwards, ask yourself again, “Would this change be able to sustain me until I get my bearings back?”

4- Is it Wise to Mix Personal and Professional Life by Making Friends at Work?

Personally, I think it matters little whether this is wise or otherwise (pun intended). Human beings are social animals so whether we like it or not, we will always be drawn to gatherings, socializing and eventually consolidating one “favorite” group of people from work. What is wise though, is to choose your work friends prudently.

In this light, think 50 times over whether it’s worth “hooking” up with an office mate. ‘Nuf said.

5- Honesty Really IS the Best Policy

Be as honest and frank as possible with your direct manager. Even if she isn’t totally honest with you, be transparent with them with whatever issue you have that might affect the quality of your work.

Your manager’s lack of “honesty” could be explained by the fact that some work-related subjects should remain only in the hands of the “upper crust”. I’m not talking about this kind of honesty. Any topic that relates directly to you or your work is a topic you have the right to know about. Similarly, your manager has the right to be informed about anything that could directly affect the accomplishment of the objectives she set for you.

In my case, I opened up to my former supervisor regarding my problem when I get hungry. You might think this is an exaggeration, but “cranky” is an understatement in this case because I would suffer a complete shut down of all my systems: I become a friend of none and an enemy to all, I make bad choices, I start remembering past offenses… try to get the idea of that kind of co-worker.

6- Drop the Delegation Drama

KNOW that it is your manager’s obligation to properly train you for whatever is written under your job description. He should know that whatever mistakes you (or anybody else under his supervision) make would directly reflect on his performance. So if he’s wise, he would adequately teach you everything you need to know to deliver a quality output. If he’s not, he would hoard all the tasks while you sit on the sidelines- that way, the deliverable would be quasi-perfect and he would not risk his attention being called.

One of my former managers was like this. I described the experience in this post.

As a newbie, it would be normal for some time to pass before some major decisions or operations are to be delegated to you. But don’t lose heart: it will come. And the first step towards that direction is to reflect the seal of excellence in every deliverable that bears your name.

7- The Value of Knowing Your Place

When you argue with your boss, LET YOUR OBJECTIVE BE TO BE HEARD and not to win/change his mind/make him side with you. While you’re at it, be as eloquent, as respectful and as precise as you can be when letting yourself be heard.

Trying to get into an argumentative battle with a superior will only leave you badly wounded and demoralized. Think about it: managers have had years and years of “training”, having had more experience in almost any type of arguments in this life. Sometimes, a smile is the best response. This way, you save time which you could use later on for whatever you wish for! PLUS, you save energy and keep your happiness.

8- Commitment Issues

It’s okay for you not to love your job. However, don’t make it an excuse to under perform.

It’s very important to leave a good impression in your job, especially if it’s the first one, and you achieve this by committing to produce the best results you possibly could.

Talking to a friend the other day, we both agreed that nothing is forever. But if we want something to last, there should be a conscious effort from our side to wake up each day and make a decision to get through the day, everyday. Work-wise, it’s the same.

In my opinion, problems could arise the moment your job starts to go against your values. A friend once told me she turned down an offer from a company that manufactures weapons for war. Another one told me that he had to leave his former company because ethically, he didn’t agree with its new strategy. When this happens, thoroughly weigh your options and be realistic about how you’re going to pay the bills and fund your dreams when a regular flow of income gets cut off.

9- Understand Your Contract

Back in France: each time I signed a new contract, an HR personnel was always beside me and ready to answer any questions I might have. Even if I took my sweet time to carefully read the 12-page document, they would patiently wait without interrupting me. They would explain anything, from something as simple as the personal tax deducted each month, to something more complex such as the legislation applicable to my situation.

Even more necessary is for you to understand your paycheck or pay stub. Keep track of your monthly expenses starting with the automatic deductions from your revenues. Don’t forget, you’re “adulting” now!

10- LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS

This final advice is the toughest one I’ve learned, because I’ve known it to be true for quite some time now.

I know it works for everyone who has tried it. However, I just wasn’t able to apply it in my own life. Now that I’ve started to do so, I’m much more fulfilled and happier than ever before.

The key to peace of mind is: not to expect anything. One thing is to bear in mind things like: scheduled meetings, DEADLINES, patterns of behavior and so on… but another thing is to be open-minded enough to ACCEPT THAT EVERYTHING IS SUSCEPTIBLE TO CHANGE. Remember, disappointments only exist because they were pre-determined by an expectation or two. So in this equation, the less we expect, the less we tend to be disappointed!

Adulting and Money Management (3.2): The Money That I Owe by guest blogger Gino

Foreword by Colorfulifesite admin:

Gino’s experience differs a lot from that of Edward, not only because of the generational gap but because of the way the former decided to approach his debt dilemma. The fact that he has not had time to save enough money to be considered “financially stable” is a great factor in his decision to pay his debts with another loan. Now normally, people are advised against this because as you might already guess, it does pose a risk of entering into a debt cycle from where it could then be very hard to exit. It takes discipline, focus and great will power to not fall into a credit trap. Most importantly, Gino did not only take another loan to pay his initial debt- he also made it a point to earn additional money from various sources of income. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. Dear reader, learn and enjoy!

***

Karessa asked me why I volunteered to be a guest blogger in Colorfulifesite Blog. The truth is I’m really eager to inform people about how I somehow recovered (slowly) and survived from my personal financial crisis. I would also like to share my experience, in case it could give them options on how to solve their debts.

Resultado de imagen de debt

Image courtesy of: http://www.fitslimstrong.com/

The Backstory:

Several years ago, my friends and I set up a corporation. It was the first business venture of my life. Needless to say, I was new to the corporate world and had not even the fundamental knowledge of things. I just took the opportunity. It was a “strike while the iron is hot” kind of thing. I was excited and impulsive at the same time that I didn’t even bother to educate myself, believing that I could learn along the way. Likewise, I joined the business world without any “financial muscle” because supposedly my contribution would be my skills. (Actually, the majority of the founders didn’t have money to invest. All we had were our Information Technology or IT skills.) This was why we needed an investor to sustain the various costs of this venture: marketing expenses, logistics, employees, and so forth.

One of the founding members met a potential financier who we all thought was an angel investor. After me and my friends agreed on his participation, he gave us a big amount of money as seed funds. We divided the financial responsibility and assigned each one an amount to be paid to the angel investor when the time came. All along, we believed that we would pay him back upon the success of the company’s project. After the papers were signed, the corporation became a legitimate one.

Unfortunately, things eventually started to go downhill due to the company’s internal issues. These issues imploded up to a point where I had to personally borrow money from loan sharks just so I could pay our employees’ salaries. I was confident I could pay the loan sharks, but little did I know that a deeper financial trouble was about to blow up in our faces:

What we thought was an angel investment was actually not. It turns out we signed a document stating that he was loaning money to the corporation, not investing! Furthermore, the terms stated that the loan should be paid within a year.

To top this all off, I have acquired credit card bills as well as other personal debts to settle.

Resultado de imagen de loan shark

Image courtesy of: https://es.123rf.com

Thankfully, the debt to the “investor” was cleared by the person who invited him to the corporation. Still, I found myself looking at an important financial dent.

The Debt Story:

I had to start getting rid of the accumulated debt I still have. So what I did was that I sold everything I could and pawned some of my belongings. That gave me some “starting money” to do something about my debts.

Resultado de imagen de debt

Image courtesy of: http://www.kiplinger.com/

Likewise, I returned to my parents’ house to save on rent and started recycling some things, like my old computer. Most importantly, I got help from my family in getting a loan to pay the loan sharks. My mom helped me get loan from cooperatives (Credit Unions) that give a lesser interest rate and a longer period payment plan. Loan sharks’ conditions of payment were tougher than a bank’s, so it was of my great interest to get them off my case as soon as possible. That’s the bad thing about getting a loan that doesn’t require any type of verification such as tax declaration, employment record, etc… Anyway I paid a big part of my debt through those cooperatives.

According to Investopedia,

A credit union is a member-owned financial co-operative. These institutions are created and operated by their members and profits are shared amongst the owners.

… (They) represent an alternative to banks and possible solutions to common complaints about traditional banking institutions… (It is) a savings and loan entity formed by a group of people who share some common characteristics, such as a profession or geographic location. The members of the group pool their money to provide loans and demand deposit accounts to other members. Credit unions are not-for-profit entities that are owned and founded by their members; they function as democracies, with each member having a say in how the credit union is run.

As a matter of fact, we borrowed from 3 credit unions. On 2 of them, my mom was the account holder while the other one is under my younger brother’s name. I did this because they were the only ones who were qualified to apply for a loan.

Part of the money I used to pay the cooperatives was earned through online jobs. I had to work double shifts and with multiple employers. All of these, without counting other jobs, so all in all that required me to work for 10-16 hours a day. I went on getting local contracted jobs too, like designing small business solutions for small enterprises. The pay was small but at least I got something, rather than nothing. (It also helped me build more contacts.)

As I mentioned before, I got some money came from pawning and selling my belongings. Some proceeds from the sold stuff were used to get along with my everyday life. I’m not even talking about spending for leisure; I meant something more commonplace like buying food and paying for fare. This money also allowed me to pay some of my other personal, smaller debts.

Then my father said he will pay some of my debt from one of my mom’s cooperative account and I can pay him whenever I could, without interest. I was relieved!

After that, I got a chance to enroll in an MBA course to educate myself on how to properly run a business. While I was in school I kept on accepting online work and working for local clients mostly to pay my school tuition, my dad, my mom and my brother. To this day I’m still not 100% clear of my debt but it’s more manageable compared to what had happened to me few years back.

-The End-

Colorfulifesite’s Note: Gino has long since learned his lesson regarding the need to be financially literate and equipped before entering a business venture. He is currently a Managing Partner at a couple of startups focused on helping small enterprises get the best adapted business solutions.

Sources:

  1. Credit Unions, Investopedia, available at: http://www.investopedia.com/articles/pf/08/credit-union.asp

What’s on a reader’s mind (2)

A very dear reader from Canada wishes to share his experience in “adulting” and money management.

However, before I move on to divulge his wise words, let me first mention how I have never met anybody online as kind and as frank as Mr. Edward Hillyer. We met in Facebook. We have a common friend who used to actively publish politically-flavored posts in his wall. It was in the comments’ section where we started out politely arguing about the different topics we enjoy. Now I believe that I may proudly say that we are friends… friends in the sense that I would seek his advice, and he would generously give it; friends in the sense that he would tell me nice stories about his childhood and his family, and I would ask him for more similar anecdotes.

I used to be reluctant in having a social media life but with a great discovery like Edward, I believe it’s worth all the trouble of meeting the weird and creepy people that roam around the internet.

I thank this dear friend for supporting my blog through actively participating in its Facebook page, as well as in my personal page.

I truly hope that you can learn as much from him as I do.

Thank you, Edward!

(The following comment originally appeared in the Colorfulifesite Blog’s Facebook page, dating 6th of February, 2017.)

My first comment on adulating [sic]* and money: If you have ever had a credit card, you will have noticed how a little here and a little there, (ten dollars for a pair on sunglasses, 20 dollars for a new top) will cause your receive your credit card bill with shock. How could just a few dollars here and a few dollars there add up to such a large bill? On the door to my father’s office was a quote ‘It all adds up’. You see this in your credit card bill that shocks you each month. This is the reality, it all (even small amounts) add up. With this knowledge as a given, why not be smart? It 2 +4 = 6, then 4 + 2 also = 6. This information is reversible. If you save a few dollars here, and a few dollars there, IT ALL ADDS UP, just as spending does on your credit card. This is a given. If you save money in your daily life, it will add up.

This was my reply, dating 8th February 2017:

Thank you for this simple yet monstrous truth, Edward. My personal experience with credit cards is quite nil because having been raised in a frugal household; we have always tried to avoid expenses (present and future). We only borrowed money if we didn’t have any other option at all. But I had a similar experience with my day to day life before my husband and I got married. We had good jobs and were living in the city center. So the temptation to get a beer here, have a bite there, etc… was always near. And we would usually give in to the “little” ones, until we realized that the 3x a week trips to have tapas at 2 EUR a glass of beer (we would end up having 3-4 glasses each) would sum up to 192 EUR a month! Imagine how much that would be in a year! So we started to save small coins and also stopped eating out too much. This was one of the ways we were able to save for our wedding (for my part, I was able to save for my dress, shoes, earrings and head accessory). Yes, we’re proud to say that we financed that marvelous celebration of our lives!

In a reply to one of my posts, (this time, in my personal Facebook page dating 22nd February 2017), Edward recounted an advice given to him by his father. Honestly speaking, I wasn’t prepared to be blinded by the light.

I joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens at 17 years old as an apprentice. I was paid half the salary of a corps de ballet dancer ($75.00 a week). I managed on that fine. It was tight, but I did it. However, after three months with the company, they tore up my old apprentice contract and gave me a corps de ballets contract. I wrote to my father with excitement. ‘My salary has more than doubled. I now earn $155.00 a week!’ My father expressed his pleasure but mentioned… ‘If you got by on $75.00 a week, this means you could now save one whole salary each week.’ What a brilliant observation. However I did not follow his advice. I adjusted my standard of living to my larger salary. I had not ‘adulted’ yet. In youth, there is a tendency to spend all the money we have before our next pay day. It really does not matter what the salary is, we will be out of money by pay day. I was poor, then rich, then poor, then rich, then very, very poor, and now I am financially independent. Like others, I have been through it all. And, I learned from it all. When the endless value of money is recognized, we will prefer the money (security) to the fancy shirt, the latest shoes, the newest gadget and the expensive restaurant. I used to live in a three story house on two acres of land with a swimming pool and three cars for two people. Clearly I had far more than I needed. What do two people do with an acre of land each? Why would two people need three cars? Why would two people need three stories? I was working two jobs and was sick with the work. I felt I needed to reward myself for working myself to the bone. How very stupid of me. I earned $90,000 a year and was always broke before pay day! Now, I have no car, no smart phone, no cell phone, no television, no house, no iPad, no IPod, no MP3 player and no cell phone. What do I have? financial security and peace of mind. The value of this is far greater to me than any material thing.

*Edward’s computer would automatically and stubbornly replace the term “adulting” with “adulating”, and so he spent the whole time with the latter word. Colorfulifesite edited the rest of the typos.

-The End-

Don’t hesitate to comment on Edward’s ideas, or share your own experiences in “adulting” and money management!

Remember that you can write to: colorfulife@outlook.es, or use the Comments’ Section below, or you could also use this blogsite’s Contact Page to tell us your stories. Thank you!

Garage Sale Diaries 2: Online Version

Author’s note: I used the webpage http://www.leboncoin.fr to sell my second-hand items.

Image courtesy of: http://www.arkhen.net

The online version of my first garage sale is shaping up to become more like an opportunity to reflect on human behaviour- mine, primarily.

This mini-project has enabled me to reflect about myself.

The first on the list were my intentions when I decided to take this on. Of course, the main objective was to earn a little money while getting rid of things that are already of no use to us- most especially baby’s equipment. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t need the money. I’m not desperate, but if I can earn a little to cover some costs of moving from one country to another then I’ll go for it!

I made it a point to price the items a bit higher than if I sold them to friends. I thought it would also leave room for negotiation in case I like the buyer. Is this my little way to have fun? by taking this small chance to manifest the control freak in me and having a valid reason for it? I had a good laugh meditating at this first of many thoughts.

The second realization I had was that through this type of exchange, one gets a peek at the human psychology in a very candid way. It might be due to the anonimity, mixed with the  honesty system. I invite you to read on and see what I mean:

The first item I ever sold was a hair dryer. It was a little more than a  year old and I can tell you it has only been used exactly 5 times. I got so many inquiries about it and after receiving each text message or each email, I would refer to the potential buyer as a “she”. What a surprise to discover that most of them were a “he”. I was very surprised! more so because the guy who finally bought the hair dryer had really short hair… (Oh, and the cheeky monkey tried to make me lower the price even more. Tough luck!)

When I told my husband about this strange phenomenon, he explained it wisely enough by reasoning out it’s a cheap Christmas gift. And if it works perfectly, then it would clearly suit the girl’s need.

I tried to fight the stuck-up girl in me from judging the situation. I’m not confirming that the buyer would truly give the used hair dryer as a gift; but as I tried to picture myself receiving a second-hand or pre-loved present, I didn’t think I’d like it.

Further along my daydreaming, I imagined myself thinking that the giver is stingy, that he or she doesn’t appreciate me much for giving me a cheap pre-used hair dryer and that I would definitely think twice the next time I get a gift for that person.

Immediately, I felt (I still do) so bad for being so superficial and not having any excuse for it. Sorry but there’s no childhood trauma, nor a family tradition that could explain why I’m this shallow. The only thing I could say for my part is that I would not give a second-hand gift to anyone, unless the recipient himself tells me he doesn’t mind, or that’s what he wants.

For a while, I tried to reflect upon this from a different angle- the gift’s utility. If someone gave me a pre-loved item as a gift, will I use it? or will it just be stuck in a cabinet gathering dust? In the case of the hair dryer, I had to admit to myself that it is a useful gift. Winter is settling in fast in the Northern Hemisphere- many people still want to wash their hair and not freeze afterwards, including me!

Lesson learned: price tags say little about what a gift represents. The real question for the buyer/gift giver is- was it a bargain or a waste of money?

The next two items I sold together were Leo’s first bathtub (the foldable type) and the seat. This time around, I made sure people would make a good deal out of them. I figured that if future parents are scouting for second hand baby equipment online, it’s because they’re making every cent count.

My husband and I bought a couple of things from Leboncoin for our son, but mostly we got brand new items. It made a dent on our wallets but we thought, “This is our first baby!”. And hard as it is to explain, it’s exactly because of this that I understand why some parents would prefer to get pre-loved items and save their money for other things.

Gigoteuse/Turbulette d'hiver 3 mois- 9 mois

Image courtesy of: http://www.leboncoin.fr

Personally, I would not buy second hand baby equipment from strangers. I’m annoyingly scrupulous about these kinds of things. Funnily enough, I believe that is precisely why I made sure the equipment were in good condition.

Lesson learned: Empathy arises in the most mysterious of ways.

The third item I was able to sell was a black dress. I priced it very cheaply because truth be told, it was bought by one of my very good friends L! Just like what happened with J, I didn’t hesitate to let her be the new proud owner of that robe de fête because I know how much she would care for it. Besides, with my new-mom figure, I can’t deny that it would look so much better on her!

It must be said though, that my experience in online selling is as varied as the amount of people who have inquired about the items I’ve put on display. So without boring you with the details of our interaction, I shall simply list below the interesting observations I gathered from this social experiment cyber vide grenier.

1. People may adopt irritating attitudes when contacting the seller: asking for a discount, requesting for the item to be sent by mail or worse, demanding the seller to go to their place to deliver the purchase. I tried to never lose the opportunity to exercise patience and politeness towards these people. But I also made it a point to be firm about my terms and conditions.

Lesson learned: somehow, it’s so much easier to exercise assertiveness when you can’t put a face on the person receiving your message.

2. Others don’t really know what they want.I learned how to detect them and didn’t lose time entertaining them when they start telling me about their lives and why they think they should buy the item or not. But if they make inquiries about the item (price, quality, brand and other characteristics), then as a seller I have the obligation to reply truthfully. Leboncoin works based on an honesty system and so far it has worked well for me.

Lesson learned: unless you’re really in need of money, entertaining undecided online buyers for pre-loved items is a waste of time. Turn your efforts into something more useful like better describing the item on display.

3. Before uploading pictures and details about the items to be sold, I should have tried to put myself into the shoes of potential buyers. This would have allowed me to think about the questions I would ask in case I get interested in anything: “How do I know this is an authentic (brandname) polo shirt?”, “What other payment options do you offer aside from cash?”, “Is it possible to meet up with you halfway between my place and yours for me to pick the item up?”, “What guarantee do I have?”, “What happens if this doesn’t work?”, et cetera, et cetera…

Lesson learned: at the end of the day haste only brings half-baked results and more work than expected.

Humidificateur Ultrasonique

Image courtesy of: http://www.leboncoin.fr

4. I admit that even before I sold anything, I was already prepared to keep the stocked items back. Somebody else will always offer a better price, a better quality or even a more convenient way of delivering the item to the buyer. So it should not come as a surprise if there are items left unsold.

To solve my dilemma about space and storage, I made a mental list of which friend will receive such and such item if I failed to sell them.

Lesson learned: even the best laid plans do not lead to the most ideal results. 

-The End-

Endnote: Please excuse the shameless plugging!

Chomsky’s quote on Neoliberal Democracy- a reflection

“Neoliberal democracy. Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls. The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless.

In sum, neoliberalism is the immediate and foremost enemy of genuine participatory democracy, not just in the United States but across the planet, and will be for the foreseeable future.”

-Noam Chomsky

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Image courtesy of: http://institutomz.com

I finally found time and space to write about this quotation by Professor Noam Chomsky. I was supposed to have done this sooner but three things happened and they’ve prevented me from complying with the scheduled pipeline of posts:

  1. I was waiting (in vain) for any type of reaction from any type of person about this quotation. I wanted to know whether they could relate to it, whether reading it made them stop to think about their lifestyle, or whether they thought I was simply going nuts… As you might’ve guessed, I did not get any response. Not one “Like”, not one “Huh”, niente. So I did what I usually do when in a situation of no-data: I started people watching (and sometimes, unintentionally eavesdropping). More specifically, I started to closely observe people when they exit different stores (bakery, grocery, shopping mall, cafés, restaurants, bookshops, cinema, theater, concert hall, gym, cooking lessons, etc…). Luckily, I live in a quartier with varied shops and services so it was easier. What’s more, Paris has been generous with the “non-rainy” weather so it was a perfect time for me to walk my son and do my semi-research.
  2. Chomsky is not easy to read. Chomsky is not easy to read. Chomsky is NOT easy to read.
  3. The life of an 11-month old baby happened every single day.

Below is a rough description of what I found out; rough because information was gathered only through observation, and rough as well due to the short time I dedicated doing such people-watching activity. I do not claim to write universal truths. Rather, I claim to document some conclusions I gathered from the dispersed and even random observations that sometimes presented a pattern.

Thank you for your understanding, dear reader.

I have decided to slice Chomsky’s quotation in different parts and present my corresponding reflections about them. You may proceed to “Conclusions” should the whole text be too tedious for you. I do hope to have tickled your brain.

“Neoliberal Democracy”

Neoliberalism (noun): a policy model of social studies and economics that transfers control of economic factors from the public sector to the private sector. It suggests that governments must limit subsidies, make reforms to tax law in order to expand the tax base, reduce deficit spending, limit protectionism and open markets up to trade. It also seeks to abolish fixed exchange rates, back deregulation, permit private property, and privatize businesses run by the state (Investopedia).

Democracy (noun): Form of government where a constitution guarantees basic personal and political rights, fair and free elections and independent courts of law.

In other words, in this environment it would seem that the chosen leaders of states limit their economic participation to being of service to the market which eventually results to the benefit of the capital (as opposed to their sworn oath to serve the people).

Consider how fast governments react when faced with a financial crisis, as opposed to situations when they have to manage a humanitarian disaster… For instance, how long did it take “Brussels” to rescue national banks during the debt crisis, and how long did it take the same institution to disburse aid in countries which received and hosted refugees?

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Image courtesy of: http://themarketsoul.com

Thus, these first two words- neoliberal democracy- seem to be referring to democracy designed to serve the market, and ultimately the capital. It is where citizens choose (or denounce) their leaders, who in turn pledge to serve them (or are ousted from their post) but whose allegiance is highly questionable due to the interests they fiercely protect once they hold office.

“Instead of citizens, it produces consumers. Instead of communities, it produces shopping malls”

The heart of Chomsky’s quotation is based on the wide-spreading habit of consumerism: there comes a point where consumers lose their humanity trying to keep up with certain standards of living promoted by reality shows, celebrities and glossy magazines, to name a few influencers. Communities are slowly being dispersed as individuals (even when they are in the company of friends or family) scout shopping malls, online stores or traditional shops to acquire and accumulate… only to realize that what they bought only a week ago is of “no use”, “fashionable”, “à la mode“, “cool” anymore, making them want to acquire and accumulate some more. Likewise, think about how in most cases the items people buy not only go quickly out of fashion, but they also require OTHER products for their maintenance and protection. The same goes for the wide range of services offered for such ends.

Apparently, this neoliberal-flavored democracy makes sure that private consumption is highly encouraged; as it is proving to be a very effective tool to energize (or recharge!) markets and satisfy capital (ists). (Financialization is of course THE tool, but that subject belongs to a separate post.)

Notice how progress is usually equated to abundance- simplified by mechanisms such as credit cards and periodical payments that encourage fast-paced and immediate consumerism practically anywhere in the globe. An important part of the immense middle-classes subscribe to this behaviour.

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Image courtesy of: http://www.capsweb.org

Try to honestly look at the society you live in and evaluate whether individuals are convinced of this mentality. It’s easy to see how, when elevated at a national level, this psychology could lead to the conclusion that accumulation of material objects is the most important indicator of advancement in the society: the more goods and services one can get hold of, more successful is the person!

Therefore, as it is only natural for people to aim for progress and betterment of their lives (and of their households), they will catch up on this trend and enter the vicious cycle of acquisition, accumulation, isolation, desperation… But this is getting ahead of the topic.

“The net result is an atomized society of disengaged individuals who feel demoralized and socially powerless”

When giving in the urge to consume (read: to buy), people usually feel an immediate burst of happiness. Suddenly, the touch of the latest mobile phone, the feel of a new shirt or the shiny glare of a jewelry excites the heart. It gives the similar euphoric sensation of having reached a mountain top, or having passed an exam- SUCCESS. Yet, unlike the more lasting satisfaction of overcoming a tough challenge, the contentment one receives from buying lasts only a very little while. After the feeling is gone, people are once again defeated by the longing to buy some more (after all, there are not many people who would climb the same mountain peak twice in one month or who would request to do the same test just for the thrill of it).

This cycle would go on and without noticing, the buyers become trapped in their own bubble of possessions and accumulation that they find it hard to see outside of it. And so it goes: branching out but never seeming to stop, forming layers of veil around the consumers’ eyes, blinding them further. This inevitably results in isolation and eventually, in desperation.

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Image courtesy of: https://daily-dose-of-art.com

An exception could be made for those who consume culture (meaning: those who buy AND make use of books, magazines, board games). The same could be observed for people who acquire services related to entertainment, health and well-being: they seem to at least be more in contact with society (social media included). Without exactly entering in their psyche to draw conclusions on how they feel, people who consume culture at least do not seem too disengaged from society. Rationally speaking: they would be aware of current political, social and economic happenings around, about and beyond. They are able to form opinions, share them and perhaps learn (if they are open-minded enough) from others who have opposing ideas and experiences. This is a participatory activity. This is engagement. This is empowering.

With regards to demoralization, it’s not easy to directly blame it to an individual’s lack of social engagement. For it cannot be denied that there exists a risk of demoralization both in being socially detached as well as being too attached to a cause.

As for powerlessness: further reading on Chomsky is necessary to know what he means with being “powerful” or “powerless”. Because: who among the normal, everyday Joes, Janes, Josés, Abduls, Rajahs, Pierres, Célines, Paolos, Ciaras, Zhangs, Tangs, manongs and manangs truly feel powerful in relation to their societal ranking?

“In sum, neoliberalism is the immediate and foremost enemy of genuine participatory democracy…”

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Image courtesy of: http://bcrw.barnard.edu

It should not be a surprise for the professor/activist to conclude that neoliberalism merely gives an illusion of freedom. Indeed it facilitates access to goods, services and even to opportunities! but in reality, it traps citizens into a cycle of constant buying and accumulating.

To quote a part of another post from this blog:

Georg Simmel used fashion as a fantastic example to explain my point: “The elite initiates a fashion and, when the mass imitates it in an effort to obliterate the external distinctions of class, abandons it for a newer mode- a process that quickens with the increase of wealth.”

Notice how the middle-class have lately become quite busy purchasing the now-accessible goods and services (most of the times with the now more-accessible credit) which make them feel like they’ve reached a higher echelon in society- cars, properties, branded clothing, lavish celebrations, vacations overseas, and so on… All the while consuming, they don’t seem to notice how the economic gap is actually widening, not slowly diminishing. Something inside me says that this phenomenon has been successful in somehow placating conflicts that could possibly stem from the common people.

Why not take the system “by the horns” and turn it to favor the majority? People can start consuming more culture, health and/or well-being to improve their personal growth and at the same time stimulate participation in the immediate and more global community.

As long as democracy is the scenery, the people still hold a slight (if not marginal; if not illusionary?) “power” over deciding the fate of the societies they thrive in. As long as freedom of choice, speech and expression are not yet punishable by law, people still have the chance to play this game and win something from it.

“…not just in the United States but across the planet, and will be for the foreseeable future”

For a long time now, the United States has always been considered as a model for success, crediting a democractic system that boosts opportunities. And if democracy has been painted as the ideal situation to flourish, then it is only normal for the rest of the world to look up to its greatest champion (?). It is only befitting if other societies applied what the Americans are doing to enjoy that kind of freedom (with opportunities, of course).

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Image courtesy of: http://www.wakingtimes.com

Therefore, it should not be a shock if people are all around are being converted into hasty, impulse purchasers and that communities have been replaced by shopping malls, cafés, Apple stores, internet fora discussing about Pokemon Go tips, and so forth. Observe how ads try to convince buyers that patronizing such and such product is liberating (think of a perfume brand), or it makes one a responsible parent (think of a tire brand), encouraging socializing (think of dating websites), empowering (think of an energy drink), etc… It does seem that purchasing is a very important manner with which to enjoy the freedom a democratic system offers.

Only lately (and perhaps this is because of the ease with which information is accessed- thanks to technology!) Scandinavian countries are redefining what an “ideal situation” is, to include wealth redistribution when referring to progress. This results in a society with the habit of making decisions for the common good. For example, the citizens willingly pay higher taxes (which means less disposable money for consumption) in exchange for benefits that their family and others could enjoy. Of course, the Nordic Model is not without challenges and controversy. Still, it is worth mentioning and hopefully also of emulating.

Chomsky might have had a vision when he pronounced the last part of his statement. Evidence is just around the corner. Thankfully, nothing is permanent and information keeps flowing, just like power politics. So even if it will take time to materialize, this humble blogger is defying the professor’s prognosis by predicting that there will be societies to challenge the current world order and new generations will resist conforming to the numbing comforts of neoliberalism. The phenomenon will not be totally global, but resistance will prevail and it will traverse frontiers and eras.

Conclusions

Within a neoliberal democratic environment, citizens supposedly feel powerful as they “hold” the keys of their future. They vote for their leaders, express their discontent and can even denounce the same leaders they once trusted. However, the said leaders propel the citizens to slowly but surely succumb to the comforts offered by consumption, as they limit their economic participation to guaranteeing smooth markets and satisfied capital (ists). Eventually, the need to keep filling the void in people’s lives through purchasing plus the requirement to maintain, repair, protect and care for their acquired possessions begin to bait them in a vicious cylce that engages their time, and their interests until they lose such time and interest for others- for the society. In this case, their power to shape the future of their societies become limited to protecting their own interests without regards to how their neighbors are faring. They become isolated in their constant need to possess and to amass.

However, consumerism may take different forms; there exist other types of goods and services to buy and enjoy. By supporting products that enrich ones’ perspectives and encourage ones’ interest for diverse cultures, ideas and experiences, the citizens who were once trapped in their own “comfortable” world could gain exposure. They could have the chance to share, live and win something from this game designed to benefit only a few.

If this trend is to be supported by the new breed, if it continues and is spread throughout borders and generations, then genuine participatory democracy can be enjoyed by more and within a longer period of time.

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Image courtesy of: http://tecnologia-educativa-alma.blogspot.fr

 Sources:

  1. “Market Democracy in a Neoliberal Order: Doctrines and Reality” by Noam Chomsky, available at: https://chomsky.info/199711__/
  2. “How I see Economic Inequality, Part 1”, by Karessa Ramos, available at: https://colorfulifesite.wordpress.com/2016/04/30/how-i-see-economic-inequality-1/
  3. Investopedia
  4. Author’s notes