Wednesday, August 20, 2008

the power of perspective....

The Wall Street Journal has two articles that really hit on the power of perspective. The first is an article on the increasing popularity of car sharing programs such as Zip Car of which I have written about before. The price of gas and rising cost of maintenance is really driving interest in these car share programs. What's more interesting is how participating in a car share program changes your view on the essentialness of a car. Susan Shaheen, research director at UC Berkeley's Transportation Sustainability Research Center has observed the following:

As people embrace car sharing, they drive less, use mass transit more and put off buying new cars.

Sanjay Rishi of IBM's global auto industry practice has noticed that car buyers in America focus on buying for maximal need instead of median need. We use to call this peak hour or busy hour in my business. It use to be that you would get all circuits busy when you called Mom on Mother's day, because the phone network was built for the remaining 364 days of the year. Yet we buy our cars, and for that matter our homes based on the the 1 weekend a year when we have lots of guests.

The other article is actually a series of blog posts by WSJ reporter Niraj Sheth's auto-rickshaw adventure in India from Chennai to Mumbai. It was a very harrowing for him, including a terrible crash that left one of his cohorts needing medical attention. While I feel the observations of his blog seem cliche and the obvious musings of a young man who realizes the world is far more vast than the malls of one's home, it does feel heartfelt in his naiveness.

We do live in a fortunate place in this world, and direct exposure to the poverty of the world does change your world view. When I encountered the poverty of Western China in comparison to the lush modernity of Beijing at the time (and that was 10 years ago, you can see the amazingness of Beijing during the olympic games). For me at that time of my life, it struck me how sad our lives are in the U.S. where we let petty worries like what we should be wearing, is it fashionable take front and center of our lives when others are dealing with basic needs. Now note I said dealing with, not worrying. People tend to worry about the same human things, such as is my wife angry, is my child sick, etc.

And, that's the point, even with hardship there is happiness and joy. Even with much less material wealth, there is still great happiness. The concerns of life are more health and home, rather than fun and frivolity. For me it made me impatient with the world around me, I have litter tolerance for people whining about their car payments on a Hummer.

In summary, there are actions and experiences of life that make you realize that you can live with less, and the replacements of happiness are not necessarily stuff or goods, but control and companionship. If you have access to a car, ownership seems optional. If you live without, you know you can live without and then you can choose to live with. Despite our increased technology, our perspective seems to be narrowing, even when our world is expanding and that disconnect is what will prevent us from tackling the challenges we face openly and with courage. If we imagine we are tethered to a ball and chain, when we are not, it makes no difference to our freedom in both cases real or unreal, we are stuck.


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