Sunday, August 19, 2012


The gap in our economy is between what we have and what we think we ought to have - and that is a moral problem, not an economic one. Paul Heyne

Today I decided to go back to the ‘roots’ series, as I have suddenly realized that I missed one of the main causes of our current troubles. It came to me just like that, in the morning...

The motto comes from a guy who died in 2000. The biography on the Wikipedia is not long, however seems that the guy made a professional choice that enabled him to fight the war of morality in a certain age segment, where he probably believed he can induce greatest change – adolescence.

This reminded me of my mother. She was also a teacher in the same field and also has chosen the undergraduate segment, even if she could have taken the university (much better paid, and with higher recognition). Probably the reasons behind their rather similar choice were a little different, however the fact remains – they did exceptional work in their field and, as far as my mother is concerned, I have seen some of the people that came out of her ‘hands’ and they are great individuals, with good moral standing and healthy family lives.

Coming back to the motto, I have to admit that it was quite a challenge to pick one today, because there were so many great quotes I found. So I decided to share with you also the other finalists:
He who buys what he does not need steals from himself (Author Unknown)
The hardest thing is to take less when you can get more (Kin Hubbard)
Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell (Edward Abbey)

As you may suspect from the title, I decided to dig out today the WASTE root of the crisis.

It happens to be one of my biggest weaknesses and probably this is why I have not singled it out before. I live with it every day. Even thou I am trying to overcome it, it is a very powerful enemy and it frequently gets the best of me.

This morning I just realized how much it has become like a cancer for our current way of living. The sad part is we got so much used to it, that we are not even aware of the damage it actually does. The trigger for realizing this may seem strange…  I was unpacking a simple ordinary pack of toilet paper – nice and pink, slightly scented. And suddenly a big part of my childhood started to pass before my eyes...

I got transported back into the 80s in my home town (Bucharest), when toilet paper was also pink, but not so soft and funny scented. It was sold in bookstores next to other paper products and was a very scarce resource. Just like food and electricity and a lot of other things which we now take for granted. We used to be very careful how much we use and we actually had a lot of jokes about alternatives to toilet paper – will not bore you with details.

Basically this is how we managed to overcome the scarcity of resources back then – with a lot of humor and love. We were happy and valued everything in a different way. Bananas were shared between me and my sister and I can hardly remember my parents having any. Cakes were made in house once or twice a week, as sugar was rationalized per person. We were actually sharing with some of our neighbors, nice old ladies who also had great skills for sweets-producing, so they were also sharing their cakes with us. Pop-corn was the result of team work for preparing and we had a special supply of it, so were very popular amongst other kids for having it.

Cooking was in general carefully planned (as gas was scarce), food variety sometimes optimized also by cook-times criteria. On special occasions we would indulge with oven-cooked meals and also some ‘fire intensive’ specialties. Heating was confined to the ‘winter rooms’ and the kitchen was quite an adventure for my mother in cold season, but she managed it with love and dignity (results were always tasty, no compromise on quality…).

My father was also cooking, but he was the ‘bad boy’ of the family in this respect, as he was not so economical with either raw materials or cooking times. He used to display 2 or 3 cooking books when he was ‘creating’, so he optimized only the tasty outcome. This is why my sister and I were so delighted whenever he performed one of those acts…

Now when I think back on those times, I believe that the variety and at the same time scarcity that was blended by our parents into our daily meals really ensured the healthy growth of both our bodies and minds.

Clothing was mended with love and care, passed on from older to younger siblings, always clean and sometimes transformed, so it does not look exactly the same. Soap was also made in house for washing clothes and was excellent disinfectant (good for hair-washing also). We had some hens in the courtyard that were giving us ‘natural’ eggs for years (the birds were already too old to be eaten and were family members anyway...).

In school, apart from the standard subjects, we were also learning basic housing skills (cooking and sewing) and were creating some nice things that we still have stashed somewhere in the attic.

What is happening today? Various forms of creativity are certainly encouraged also in today’s schools, even wider choices that in our childhood. However the abundance of disposable things is gradually eating up many hard-working ways of collecting memories. It is difficult to choose a favorite doll when you have tens of them, or to look forward to eating your half of a banana, while your parents are begging you to eat healthy from hundreds of options.

The older we get, the more we are drawn into the waste tornado. Some of us are swallowed by it in our daily personal lives, others in our professional lives, many of us in both areas. Some give in to this temptation on daily basis, some less frequently but with bigger collateral damage.

But… what exactly am I thinking about when saying WASTE?

About buying too much food and throwing it away. Using too much paper and throwing it away. About getting the newest and most technologically advanced piece of equipment and throwing away the good old one which is still fully functional. About manufacturing things for single use, just to ensure permanent sales (in this category I include not only those official one-use towels or similar, but also those things for ‘long-term’ use, which actually break immediately after the warranty expires, just because they were not really designed to last).

I am thinking about all those billions of options in terms of cosmetics, clothing, accessories, food, medicine, cars and IT gadgets, wondering what happens to all those who are not chosen to come home with us. About millions of things which are chosen from billions of options to come home with us, just to sit on some shelve and never get used, and then get thrown away (or in the best case donated to some charity which usually proves to be just another business, that re-introduce them in some second hand stores in a distant country, waiting again for someone to pick them and take them home...).

I am thinking about the billions of residential, office and commercial square meters which are being built as I write, to add to the offer of already vacant billions of residential, office and commercial spaces that wonder if they would ever be chosen by the less and less wealthy ordinary people, as well as by the less and less successful middle businesses. I am thinking of businesses which over-expand, counting on their product being better than the competitors, but then killing each other in the process, as the prices go down for everybody.

I am thinking about the waste of our beautiful imagination, which is blown away every day by a civilization which creates more and more brain robots. About a month ago I was sitting in a bus, next to a kid and a young man. The kid was talking about the most recent movie he has seen and the guy next to him asked him something else instead - when did he last read a book. The kid was rather confused and replied that it is much easier and entertaining to see a movie. Then the guy told him: ‘yes, but a movie will never give you what a book can. In a movie you see a very narrow world – the one which the director imagined for himself and imposed then on his public. When you read a book you can imagine things the way you like it, in the colors you choose, and you can make the character as beautiful or as ugly as you wish. In a book you read with your own mind and feel with your own soul, therefore build your own world; while in a movie you are just a passive observer of someone else’s world.’

I wish there were microphones in that bus and this creativity lesson coming from a simple (but wise) young man was broadcasted on all TV channels during prime time. However this could not happen in this world, as we are only programmed to waste that prime time with negative news which turns us into passive observers of someone else’s perception of world events. This is what modern communication channels make of us, correlated automatic answering machines, triggered by certain stimulus which the owners of this channels orchestrate - negative, panicking, gloomy, “global-crisis-self-fulfilling-future-losers”. It is indeed a waste of our creative, positive, loving, solution-oriented and long-term surviving selves.

What else do we waste, apart from material things and spiritual potential? Basically we experience a huge waste of our otherwise very limited… TIME.

We spend it nowadays in so many funny ways that do not enhance our spirituality. Let’s take for example politics. In the good old days when media was not so wide-spread, this used to be a necessary evil of the organized society. A handful of people were paid from contributor’s money to spend their time playing political games with a reasonable outcome, which I suspect was to preserve some ground rules and proper order in the society. Nowadays, apart from the fact that the purpose of the politicians is not very clear anymore, we also have another systemic problem: every citizen with voting right is now wasting time on politics. I believe nothing more needs to be said, readers should know already why I would categorize this as a total waste. And for this waste we pay very much, much more than we can even begin to imagine.

Plus that the term ‘politics’ does not refer only to government, as it is a much wider area of our life – we have to act political at work, in our personal circle, sometimes even in our home. A reasonable part of this politics is good and brings positive result; however making it the main driver of our life would really turn it into a big waste. As with everything else in life, finding the right balance is the real challenge.

And I could continue on many other forms of waste in our day-to-day life, but then I become guilty of the sin of a movie director – imposing my view on the story and thus stopping your imagination from running wild, all by its own. I bet you can come up with huge number of waste examples of your own, so I will invite you to do just that.

To wrap this up, I would just ask myself how did we get so fast from there (childhood scarcity) to here (current waste)? In the case of the former communist countries this change was much faster, in case of the more advanced economies the transition happened slower. In some case the scarcity is still there and it is another proof of the cancer-like waste which we experience (as we do not have enough will and determination to put our waste to a good use and help them…).

I believe that the transition, from scarcity to wealth and then further to waste, is connected with human need for comfort and security. This was originally a good and desirable evolution, if only we knew when and where to draw the line before switching to waste.

The difficulty is connected to the fact that temptation has become a global business. Behavioral economics is one of the recent trends in economic science, basically revealing how our faulty human nature rules our choices, how manipulation games are called “marketing”, and how silly we can behave when we face of our own weaknesses and are addressed with the right temptation (‘right’ meaning a mix of dosage, place and time plus ... as someone said so nice ... lack of witnesses!…).

More than that, modern financing schemes really disconnected our purchasing power from our real net worth (and more sadly also from our social and health insurance schemes…), creating a bubble exactly from what the motto points out: it made some of our dreams become possible even in those cases when they shouldn’t have ...

It is nothing wrong with dreaming, as long as we can still distinguish between dream and reality. Unfortunately, the good old sense of responsibility and accountability got diluted in this process and people took what they thought they deserve without asking themselves who will pay for this in the end. I do believe that the bill will be paid by all of us and even sadder is that it will be paid by our children, unless they rebel and refuse to pay for the waste created by the ‘old folks’.

Therefore, with the risk of repeating myself, I will say it once again: we are not living a crisis, but a paradigm change, something that happens almost every century, a transformation which will give birth to a new world. For better or for worse – this remains yet to be seen. I hope we have become wiser at least in the way that we should not shed blood for cleaning ourselves. We can still do it with water, soap and self-control.

We need to wake up and re-assess our behavior according to our needs, both material and spiritual, and also both as individuals and social-wise (addressing all the dimensions of our societies). We need to bring back the reasonable into our lives, to search again the long-lasting sense of satisfaction, which got lost in the run after the quick sense of easy pleasure.

There is also some good news in today’s writing and thus a glimpse into some ways ahead. First of all, I know that not everyone has given into the temptation of waste; there are deep roots of morally healthy people which are raising beautiful kids. There are also beautiful teachers still fighting for the morality of our future generations.

And the greatest news is that this is a global problem for which no global resources need to be identified. This one we can and need to tackle individually by ourselves, in our family and circle of friends. It is also the hardest part, because it means we should all realize that every one of us is personally responsible for our own choices, but this is also where our hope for the future lies.

Yesterday I bought a very nice Jiminy and I hope it was not a waste, but a helpful material representation of a friendly consciousness.

I wish us all good luck!
Georgina Popescu


  1. You gave words to thoughts of many people who are still trying to make sense of their age old rational habits in view of ominous marketing of temptation. We have got the money but haven't learnt the best ways of spending it. Really appreciative article.

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