Friday, December 24, 2010

Once You've Been Poor

Whether you were poor as a child or suffered economic reversals as an adult, something happens to your basic instincts once you've been poor. No matter how much money you manage to make afterwards, you have to fight your inner self to spend major portions of it, because you are afraid of being poor again. Even Oprah, with all of her millions feels this way because of poverty as a child. I grew up in a single-parent situation with only meager alimony/child support family sustenance. I didn't consider myself poor because we lived in a city neighborhood where all of my friends had similar economic conditions. From the age of seven on, I had to fend for myself after school until my mother came home from work. In those days, apartment house neighbors watched out for you if you ran into problems. It was also a time when kids were happy with a basketball or a building block set for Christmas. They couldn't even conceive of the Christmas largesse of today. As soon as I could get a work permit, I started working jobs after school and during the summers, and eventually things got better. Nevertheless, my psyche had been marked in two ways by the experience of being poor. First, I knew that I could get along no matter what economic reversals I suffered, because I had been there before, and I knew the difference between a need and a want. Second, I knew that I would never be able to spend money as though it had no importance because there was always the sensitivity to losing it all. I still look for the best value whenever I shop. Some of my friends who haven't been there can't comprehend my attitude. I thoroughly recommend raising your children on lean rations, because it is far better to live your adult life based on past experiences of being poor than it is to have to learn poverty survival skills during your later years.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What's the Value of Conflict?

Most of the effort we put into interpersonal relations, and most of the effort our governments put into international relations are aimed at reducing or eliminating conflict. The tensions in our lives are caused by the many conflicts we perceive and encounter. Obviously, conflict must be a bad thing because we always try to eliminate it. This statement is not necessarily true in life, because we gain most of our benefits from negotiations due to the conflicts that ensue during the bargaining process. When you write fiction, as I do*, you learn that nobody will want to read your book if it doesn't contain enough conflict. People find books that are all happiness and void of conflict to be boring and uninteresting. Thus, we have a paradox between life and fiction. In life, we try our best to avoid conflict, while in the selection of fiction to read, we go out of our way to search for it. To resolve this conundrum, we have to look at the impact of conflict. If conflict impacts or affects us during the course of our lives, we seek to avoid it because conflict costs us in many ways: money, sleep, friendships, etc. When conflict occurs in a novel, it impacts fictional characters, and we can find that interesting without working up a sweat over it. It is the same principle that lets us enjoy a football game between two teams that aren't our favorites without caring who wins. We have no stake in the outcome. When one of the teams comes from our home town or college, we go through a psychological roller coaster process when our team looks as though it is on the way to winning or losing. The next time you find yourself in a personal conflict with someone, tell yourself that the outcome really doesn't matter that much, and you will find yourself able to think your way through it more objectively. If you don't let conflict emotionally suck you in, you will be more likely to be able to work your way out of it.

*To enjoy some conflict, read my "Lord's Prayer Mystery Series", books out to date: Lead Us Not into Temptation, Volume I, and Give Us this Day Our Daily Bread, Volume II. (written as Richard Davidson)