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Archive for April, 2011

I have a very religious son, a chasid, who is visiting during a break from his studies at a yeshiva in Paris.

We had a conversation yesterday  (probably more me speechifying) on how to remember the sacred in work, and in the world.

I’ve known many that have proposed approaches to accomplish that sanctifying of real life, but few that have actually done it, and dependably. It seems to rest on questions of what is the purpose of human life, beyond just surviving and enjoying.

In Jewish thought there is a dichotomy between sanctification (noting the presence the “ONE” in all actions, relationships and things) and idol worship (worshipping the work of one’s own or others’ hands). I also see it in the process of feeling shame (giving power to others’ rather than to the “ONE” to judge. God  judges, but consistently forgives and transforms. People only judge. Good friends forgive and assist in transformation.)

So, I’ve learned that the process of thanking cuts through the norm of taking our world for granted. It particularly affects how one relates to money and all economic activity.

Our current economy dehumanizes. We exchange without any appreciation for the work and natural gifts that went into products/services. The specialized structure of the economy divorces MANY from productive contribution, from livelihood, from meaning. And, the large capitalist anonymous economy creates a slow sucking of value from nature, people to capital. (I hate to sound like a rabid Marxist, but it still is true.)

So, the question to me is how can the economy be humanized? And, the question to my prayerful orthodox son is how can economy be sanctified?

To humanize economy, to humanize our relationship to it, starts with our thanking. I daily pick up a product that I’ve bought (its astounding how many products pass through my family), and ask “what work was done to get this to me, for me to use?” The answer is always MUCH more complex than it looks.

A pen. The parts of the pen are the plastic covering, plastic ink holder, ink, metal/plastic tip, plastic pen cover. It came in paper packaging with sealed plastic film covering. I bought the pen at a Staples store, with checkout (a large process, not just a single person), stocking, ordering, lots of indirect overhead expenses. It was shipped to the store, involving loading, driving and fuel and vehicle, unloading. Before that the product was packaged, boxed, palletized, moved around a warehouse. Before that the batches of pens were assembled, usually with machiness, inspected. Before that the materials were compiled, the plastic molded, the ink chemically mixed, the metal head cast. And so on and so on.

Each of the persons that contributed to each of these processes has a name, a body, a mind, emotions, a personal history and current situation, mostly likely some struggle.

Each of the processes was done in some locale, where money is sent in compensation for the work, to contribute to their local or anonymous economy.

Maybe 400 people could be identified as contributing to getting this pen designed, made, packaged, delivered, distributed, sold. Each with a name.

I thank each of them individually. “Thank you for packing this pen in pallet # 24000657”. “Thank you for mixing ink chemicals”. “Thank you for packing the mixed ink chemicals in preparation for delivery to the pen assembly plant”. “Thank you for putting this pen packaging on the shelves.” “Thank you for accepting my money in payment for the work that went into the pen.”

My money, my spending, shifts to an embodied “thank you”. A humane business executive paying his employees, would convey my thank you to the employee accompanying the payment of their compensation check (or electronic transfer). How do you say thank you in the process of an electronic funds transfer?

For my son, at each phase, has to be added, “Thank you Creator of the universe for providing x employee with all of their needs so that they can healthily make my new pen. Thank you Creator for creating the laws of nature and physics, from which the material to make the pen originates. Thank you for your presence in my using the pen, in the consciousness of all that contributed to me getting and using the pen.”

As a daily exercise, this will change you, even if poor, underemployed, spread thin.

More than choice, thanks. More than thanks.

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