A condensed version of a story back in September 2010, with a new one thrown in at the end:
Since I started this blog five months ago, I’ve talked a lot about personal experiences in hopes of providing a source of inspiration to others. I’ve also talked of religious topics and how those principles have been applied in my own life. Now I’d like to talk of one that’s been on my mind for some time, an economic topic by definition, but one that I think we all experience in our daily lives. In doing so, I’ll try to give some real-life examples so you get a sense of what I’m speaking of.
Wikipedia defines “Diminishing Returns” this way: “In economics, diminishing returns (also called diminishing marginal returns) refers to how the marginal production of a factor of production starts to progressively decrease as the factor is increased, in contrast to the increase that would otherwise be normally expected.” In other words, it doesn’t matter how much more gas we throw on a fire, it won’t make any difference in the output of the heat. Another way of looking at it is strictly from an economic standpoint. Take our current economic crisis America is experiencing; massive unemployment, unprecedented spending to boost the economy, bailouts right and left. You get the point, right? We’ve thrown money at problems for nearly two years now and yet still, we’re no better off today than we were then.
Now for a personal example. I was talking with my 85-year old Aunt recently here in Southern California. She’s a retired public school teacher, having taught English and writing for over three decades. Recently, she decided she wanted something to do with her idle time so she approached a local school district to volunteer as a writing instructor for advanced placement English for high school students. However, because of the way our culture has evolved, she had to submit to the “application process” like anyone else would. This meant a background check, drug screens, you name it, and she had to go through it. When she went to get tested for drugs, the people there laughed like, “Are you kidding me? You? An 85-year old widow with over three decades of an unblemished teaching career?” Yep, she had to do it. On top of that, she had to submit to fingerprints. All TEN of them. But, because of her age, her skin has deteriorated to the point that the technician couldn’t obtain a decent impression of FOUR of her fingers! The technician said, “Hmm…that’s strange. That’s never happened before.” The result? My aunt’s job as a volunteer teacher is on hold because the “system” says so. Why? Whatever happened to common sense? Judgment of character?
So, from a “diminishing returns” perspective, what GOOD does it provide for her, or anyone else similar to her, to have to play by the same rules as everyone else? The system says so and frankly, if you think about it, here’s why. Imagine if you will, they did use their own judgment and hired her based on her credentials, only to find out later that she did drugs. Bam. Lawsuit from parents right and left. And therein is where the problem is with our culture. Everyone is so afraid of being sued for the slightest grievance and, because of one rotten egg in years past, everyone, including 85-year old ladies with spotless records and unparalleled credentials, get thrown in the same pot.
What you just read was a story posted on my blog back in September 2010, a mere five months after I started it and the associated Facebook page called Gusto. So, with that story in mind, the question begs itself; What does all this mean to you? Ahhhh, there’s the tricky part! Before I render my opinion on that, let’s give some background to all this, a conversation I had with the same Aunt I’ve mentioned in this story. Keep in mind, she may be 86 now on the outside but her mind is as sharp as a tack! A few months after I wrote this story I stopped by her home for a visit. We got to talking about the state of our world these days. To be honest, I was lamenting the fact that people seemed obsessed with self-gratification, they can’t wait to get their hands on the latest greatest gadget. Meanwhile, everyone seems to scurry around like ants, crawling over one another in a desperate search to reach the “top.” We’re being bombarded right and left every day with new technologies, it seems like we’re always trying to play catch-up. My Aunt was listening intently. I could tell she was absorbing this deeply. This is a lady with a stellar resume; first female from my home town in Kansas to graduate from the University of Kansas back in the 1940’s, with a degree in English Literature. A storied high school teaching career spanning over three decades in three different states. The cream of the crop.
When I finished, all she said were SEVEN words; “We have to get comfortable with confusion.”At that point, we both burst out laughing! It was such a profound statement, one I’ll never forget. But it’s taken me months to put those words in perspective. At first, my interpretation was probably like yours or anyone else’s. My brain was saying; “I guess I’ll just have to accept things the way they are.” Now that I’ve had more time to think about it, and reconciled her words with several more personal experiences since, what I think she was really saying is “We’ve come to a point where, no matter how much more we “get”, it’s not buying us more “happiness.” We should narrow our choices down to a few to find peace amidst the chaos.”
In other words, we’ve reached that state in our personal lives like that found in classic economic theory, the “Law of Diminishing Returns” has kicked in. This would summarize a core philosophy of what I call “A new way of thinking and living.” So instead of thinking we have to choose amongst 15 different kinds of laundry detergent when we go to the store, simply DECIDE on one and leave it at that, in SPITE of all the marketing efforts thrown at us to buy the “latest greatest” detergent with an exotic mixture of Fabreze and Downy thrown in for good measure. And don’t label or try to sell me an Ecru-colored shirt, when you can simply call it what it is; light brown. Am I oversimplifying? I think not! Yes, it’s certainly a tongue-in-cheek view, but perhaps you get my point.
I’ll summarize this latest “Ramblings” chapter this way; “Muaaaahhh! Keep It Simple Silly!”