Economics as if People Mattered, Economics in a Spiritual Sense (with E.F. Schumacher)

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

“An attitude to life which seeks fulfillment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth — in short, materialism — does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.”
–E.F. Schumacher, Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered

I’m not one to jump for the joy at the sound of economics, nor do I find the subject of economic progress appealing. I can, on the other hand, understand the necessity of work, of having a job in order to sustain one self. It is only from this perspective, this incredibly minute perspective that I was brought up in: life is about finding the right job and living comfortably until you die peacefully.

Until it’s not.

This perspective changed as soon as I became an activist. When you come face to face with the dire working conditions of your people, you want nothing but change. You know what the ideal world you dream up with others look like, but you don’t exactly know the specifics of what it takes to get to that world.

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“What becomes of man in the process of production?”

This, by no means, is really your fault. There are numerous institutions and systems at work.

When I read Alain de Botton’s The News: A User’s Manual last year, he wrote about how news cables were first laid on the ocean floor — in the service of economics.

Historically, the evolution of the modern news media has been closely linked to the need for market information on the part of capitalism’s banks, brokerages and trading houses.

The transoceanic cables laid between the United Kingdom and the United States in the mid-nineteenth century were jointly funded by financiers and news companies (Reuters, for one).

Most of the economic news we also receive for the most part fly over our heads: there is no section of the New York Times dedicated to economics as a whole, but there is a Business section. It isn’t too hard to guess which portion of the population it aims to serve — either the rich, or for those of us who see trade and job-making a way of life.

I haven’t heard of Schumacher before, but I came across a Brain Pickings post once called “Buddhist Economics.” Those two words together caught my attention. That same day, a friend pulled it out of her shelf and told me that I should read it. I took that as a beautiful happenstance. This book and I were fated.

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“The cultivation and expansion of needs is the antithesis of wisdom.”

This book was first published in 1975, about twelve years before I was born. Schumacher’s book was dismissed as wanky, crazy even to quote Gandhi and Buddha in a field ruled by statistics. His premise was simple: in a world where capitalism is god, we needed to face hard facts about the way we lived our lives.

We is the operative term; most of the major economic decisions made back then (and to this day) were beyond what the average citizen had a control of. In understanding the scope and essence of our economic lives, he referenced other concepts: peace, permanence, Buddhism, consumerism, nature as capital, materialism.

I started to get even more interested. As I get older, I find myself drawn to things that evoke a sense of spirituality. I found this in Small is Beautiful as he pointed out man’s irreverence and arrogance, reminding us — mere human beings — of our own impermanence. It was humbling.

He [Schumacher] reminds us that economics has only become scientific by becoming statistical. But at the bottom of its statistics, sunk well out of sight, are so many sweeping assumptions about people like you and me — about our needs and motivations and the purpose we have given our lives.

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“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not for every man’s greed.”

Charting the Inner Landscape of our Lives with Krista Tippett

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit


It was a cold Saturday morning in a hospital in San Francisco and I was huddled on a desk, silently cursing the winter chill. I wasn’t supposed to be at work that day. The department was eerily quiet, too bright with all of the fluorescent light panels on. And then from a corner of my inbox, I noticed an email from Seth Godin that has illuminated my life since then: his interview with Krista Tippet, host of the podcast On Being.

I’ve been a fan of Seth for some time now, religiously devouring his daily emails (you should really subscribe if you haven’t), books, interviews and classes. Seth’s humbling brilliance, punctuated by Krista’s insightful wisdom stunned me. The hour flew by. Even though I was unfamiliar with Krista’s tone and style, it was easy for me to slide into the show’s rhythm.

That interview made me a Krista fan, as I relished episodes wherein she conversed with luminaries I’m both familiar and unfamiliar with: Pico Iyer, Maria Popova, Alain de Botton, Paul Muldoon, David Whyte, Elizabeth Alexander. It wasn’t until later, after ten episodes or so, that I finally started to grapple the depth of the show; I slowly felt its impact within the inner workings of my own being.

What is striking with these conversations is that although Krista’s guests/partners are not necessarily spiritual nor religious, she is always able to take them to a field where the heart, spirit and soul meet, bringing her listeners with her. Each episode always leaves me feeling a little more grounded, embracing the length of being human even more.

As soon as I found out that she was releasing a book, I knew that Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living would be just as generous as Krista was (also Seth’s words in the interview).

Coming Out on Faith with Anne Lamott

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

Ash Wednesday came early this year. It was supposed to be about preparation, about consecration, about moving toward Easter, toward resurrection and renewal. It offers us a chance to break through the distractions that keep us from living the basic Easter message of love, of living in wonder rather than doubt. For some people, it is about fasting, to symbolize both solidarity with the hungry and the hunger for God.

I started reading Anne Lamott’s Small Victories: Improbable Moments of Grace a day after Good Friday. The day was “Black Saturday,” a day of mourning for Catholics. It’s that in-between time after the death of Jesus and his resurrection the following day.

The day before, I was still finishing up my post on Ed Catmull’s book and my mom casually asked if I still went to church. I didn’t have a better answer than “I’m not practicing” so that’s what I said. Dammit. That was a lie, followed by Catholic guilt.

For a long time I considered myself an atheist, not believing in God/dess or a higher power. I always questioned his/her/their existence, having witnessed a lot of suffering as I grew up. As I got older I became agnostic and eventually, I turned to Buddhism, finding its teachings and practices a much more suitable fit for the person I want to be. For the person I try to be, instead of feeling bad that I hadn’t followed my parents’ religious footsteps 

I was learning the secrets of life: that you could become the woman you’d dared to dream of being, but to do so you were going to have to fall in love with your own crazy, ruined self.

Life Lessons from Pixar’s President, Ed Catmull 

Art + Creativity, Book Reviews

My path to reading Ed Catmull’s Creativity, Inc. (Shop your local indie store) was through reading other books that quoted and referenced him, a process which I’ve come to love. This was how I read Joseph Campbell too as I’ve written in a post earlier. My fascination began with Steve Jobs, the late visionary leader of Apple; I read his biography last year by Brent Schlender’s Becoming Steve Jobs: The Evolution of a Reckless Upstart to a Visionary Leader.

At a pivotal point in Steve’s career after being forced out of the board of Apple, he started working with Pixar Animation and met Ed Catmull and John Lasseter. It was at Pixar where he was first humanized, and it was because of Ed’s style of leadership.

“I liked him from the moment I met him,” Steve told me (Schlender) once about Ed. He found him an intellectual match. “Ed is a quiet guy, and you could mistake that quietness for weakness — but it’s not, it’s strength. Ed’s really thoughtful, and really, really smart. He’s used to hanging around really smart people, and when you’re around really smart people you tend to listen to them.

Steve listened to Catmull. Though he could often come across as a know-it-all, Steve was constantly trying to learn. Trim and professional, Ed was ten years older than Steve, making him as much of a mentor as a colleague.

Theirs was a quiet, sincere friendship, enabled in great part by Catmull’s maturity.

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Ed Catmull, Steve Jobs and John Lasseter

It was at this point that I wanted to know more about the President of Pixar. At the first turn of the page you can already sense Ed’s humanism: the dedication on the third page simply writes “For Steve.”

Can Buddhism & Activism Ever Co-exist? 

Book Reviews, Soul + Spirit

The wave does not need to die to become water. She is already water.

On my 29th birthday, some gifts to myself: saltwater, deep presence and a connection to the world around me.

I was finishing reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s (Thay, as he is referred to endearingly) You Are Here as this day came and it couldn’t have been perfect timing. As one gets older, certain things become clearer. In an age when social media and the connection it provides is prevalent comes a time when one feels even more distracted, frustrated and worse, isolated.

These things have prompted me to challenge and question not just how we consume social media but ultimately, how we spend our days. After all, writer Annie Dillard said it best: how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.