1.31.2008

The Economics and Ecology of The Wire

Omar "Big Baller" Little

“You are not just one in a million, but rather you are one in a million.”

Last night, I went to bed at 11:30pm and set my alarm for 1:30am in order to wake up in the middle of the night to watch the most recent episode of The Wire. Some of you may laugh, others of you may sigh, but if you’re a true fan of The Wire, then you’ll understand. Currently in its fifth season, The Wire continues to be the best show on television!

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Last night, while watching The Wire, I finally understood a basic economic concept that I learned my freshman year in college. On my very first day of economics, I was told that economics is the study of the allocation of scarce resources. Although I cognitively understood this as an economics major, it was not until watching The Wire last night that I understood true meaning of the phrase.

In The Wire, the limiting factor to fixing the problems in the city of Baltimore is scarce resources. Whether it is the ability of the police department to stop crime, the newspaper reporters to uncover real news, or the politicians to change the inherent problems in the political system, each group faces the same problem: scarce resources. All the policeman, reporters, and politicians want to make a difference in their community, but money, incomplete information, time, and limited manpower prevent them from getting the job done.

Sadly, scarce resources are frequently the limiting factor to making a difference in our own realities and the world. We are part of systems, bureaucracies, or networks that do not properly allocate scarce resources and we become frustrated, angry, or just give up. Even the mind is a scarce resource when we are unable to determine how to solve a problem or resolve a conflict; we choose to limit our thinking rather than face uncertainty and uncomfortable situations.

So what can we do? Well, the good news is that a strong will can overcome scarce resources! As long as we do not let ourselves become scarce resources, in terms of our passion, will or drive, then we can make a difference in our own reality. We can live in abundance despite the scarcity.

Economics is study of the allocation of scarce resources. Economics is not the study of how to wallow in the misery of lack. Simply by being aware of the reality of the situation: the incomplete information, the lack of motivation, the limitations of our sphere of influence, etc, we can do what we can to be abundant. I believe that everyone wants to make this world a better place, but the existence of scarce resources frequently leads people to behave in strange ways. We assume that our efforts are hopeless and futile. After all, there is always someone who is doing better and someone who is doing worse, how can an individual make an impact? The answer is that you are not just one in a million, but rather, you are one in a million!

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My friend Ellen is starting Toussaints, a green construction company, in Boston. She is starting this company because her heart and her vision are aligned. She wants to help people become more conscious and aware of their place in this world. Ellen’s greatest gift is her ability to understand people, and by understanding people, she is able to help others better understand themselves. And when you are visionary, whose goal is not about the product or the service, but about the value of the employee, the value of the organization, and the value of the values then your vision will succeed because your vision is for a higher purpose larger than just yourself.

Sustainable ecology teaches us to learn from nature by understanding that the fragile ecosystems in which we live are what allow us to live. By looking at the delicate balance of humans and nature on a global scale, we are able to see how we can affect small changes in our own communities. Sustainable ecology and green construction are about integration, collaboration, and doing the best that you can to make this world a better place in your own sphere of influence. As long as you run a transparent, sustainable, and responsible organization, you are keeping these things in mind. You are being a compassionate leader facilitating positive change in your organization and the world!

In The Wire, there are three main ecosystems: the law (the policemen and the drug dealers); the paper (the reporters and the sources); and the hall (the mayor and the bureaucrats). Each of these ecosystems exists as a separate, but inextricably interrelated economic ecosystem. Baltimore is the larger ecosystem, but McNulty, Carcetti, Marlow, and Gus are too distracted by the failures in their own networks to work together to affect change on a whole; Only Omar is truly able to put it all together!

So again, I ask, what can we do? Your ecosystem must be cultivated and carefully maintained in order for the system to perpetuate itself and sustain itself. And that is what sustainable ecology and green construction are all about. They are about realizing that change and transformation are a part of life; rather than be overwhelmed by the existence of scarce resources, you acknowledge its existence and overcome. It’s about sustaining the existence of human beings with nature. Not for nature’s sake and not for human’s sake, but for our collective sake.

If you’ve been thinking since the end of the last section that you’re one in a million, don’t forget that you’re just one in a million…

1.29.2008

Vegas Baby, Vegas!

I will definitely have the Elephants as promised, but check out this unprecedented collection of ballers in Vegas this past weekend!

(Click on the picture to enlarge)

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1.22.2008

Learning from Thai Culture

Making Mud Bricks at the Elephant Nature Park!

There are so many amazing lessons that I learned from the Thai culture during my travels, I will try to encapsulate some of the wisdom in a few short paragraphs. A lot of these insights were simply from watching the differences between Thai and American high school students. I also learned a lot from watching the behavior of people I interacted with on the street, in restaurants, and in stores. I do not claim to be an expert, but most of the points that I will make could be backed up with many anecdotal references beyond the stories that I use below.

Big Baller Woolf, Ajahn, and Big Daddy Baller on the way to tie blessed monks robes on trees to prevent them from being logged.

In Thailand, over 95% of the people are Buddhists, which means that there are many Buddhist values and practices that are ingrained into the culture. Coming from an American culture that is a smorgasbord of beliefs, values, and ideas that have been developing for just over 300 years, it is very hard to imagine a set of values that has existed in some areas for over 2500 years. These values have created a culture that essentially follows the middle path with the central focus of life to be happy. After all, Thailand is called The Land of Smiles!

We brought reading glasses to a hill tribe. Very stylish don't you think!

Karma plays a big role in this way of thinking. The existence of karma not only means that each individual or family is deserving of their social status, but also that this life is only one of many. The first point, regarding social status, is very important because there is a strict caste system and ranking system in Thailand; members of the army, government officials, and businessmen are at the top of the food chain, which makes up about 30% of the population. Interestingly enough, however, those with higher status have a sense of generosity and benevolence and those with lower status have a sense of reverence and respect. Karma implies higher status is achieved through acts of good merit from a previous life and lower status is achieved through acts of bad merit from a previous life. Simply put the principle of cause and effect in regards to social differences. This leads to a very respectful culture in both directions.

The second point of karma is that this is only one of many lives and that the causes of this life will have an effect on the next life. Therefore, you should perform acts of good merit faithfully because you want to be reborn into a better life, without forgetting of course, that you are thankful to be born as a human in this life. (Some say that the stray dogs living at a monastery were bad monks in a past life!) This seemingly takes away a lot of the stress and strain of time. Things will get done when they get done and there is a clear lack of urgency. People do not seem to be rushed, but are happy to sit back and live life.

Calmly waiting to get on the BTS - Light Rail System.

While waiting to ride the subway, for example, everyone lines up and waits to get onto the train. On the platform, lines form behind a set of feet painted on the ground. The passengers on the platform calmly wait for everyone to get off the train before getting on the train. Imagine that! Also, this is the same for traffic, which is a nightmare in Thailand. There are no horns, no frustration, and no yelling. Traffic moves or it doesn’t move. I did not experience any road rage, although to be fair to those that live in Bangkok, the drivers do drive like madmen!

These women made offerings from flowers on string by hand for several hours. It was a very slow and tedious process, but the group interaction was the reward. They were laughing all afternoon!

There is also a tremendous sense of respect shown to elders with more life experience. I experienced this both from talking to the Thai students, who described the most important members of their family as their grandparents and uncles, as well as in regards to their behavior towards me and the other mentors. The Thai students were constantly trying to help me with my luggage, take my dirty dishes, or allow me to go first. They were always going out of their way to make sure that I was treated respectfully. The most amazing part is that this level of respect is customary even with the smallest of age gaps. When bowing (known as wai-ing in Thai) to another person, a 26 year old would show respect by bowing to a 27 year old; an older person will always accept the bow from a younger person during a greeting. Whether it was a hostess at a restaurant, a shop keeper in the store, or just some random person holding the elevator, this same level of respect exists across the board. Thai people always show respect to one another.

The biggest insight, however, is the idea of living a happy life. I think that this is an extremely important aspect of the Thai culture because happiness is not generally something that I believe is our end goal. My belief is that happiness is a by-product of doing something that is fulfilling, satisfying, or aligned with your passion. Happiness is not to be attained, but will manifest, given the right course of action.

What I discovered from living in the Thai culture is that happiness isn’t so bad after all. The quest for satisfaction and fulfillment create a sense of time and future thinking. Being satisfied or fulfilled in the moment frequently manifests as happiness. In our closing circle, the most important lessons that the Thai students learned from our two week adventure was that it was a group of people and an experience that they would never forget. They were deeply embracing the happiness of the moment without searching for life changing transformation!

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I have more stories, pictures, and videos of elephants to come very soon...it's tough to find the time to reflect when you're driving 7 hours a day and hiking through old growth redwood forests...it's a tough life, but a happy one!

1.19.2008

Power of One

“One person making a difference for one other person will begin to change the world!”

I finally realized tonight what Power of One truly means.

I just returned from Thailand where I traveled with a group of 47 high school students, mentors, and teachers from the Untied States, Thailand, and China. The purpose of our trip was to explore the idea that one person can make a difference and provoke change in the world. By engaging in service work throughout Thailand, our goals were: to better understand the cross cultural differences, to hone our unique personal visions, and to understand how to make a difference as global citizens.

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Lek's Vision

Our main service project was at The Elephant Nature Park in Chiang-Mai, Thailand. Sangduan “Lek” Chailert is the founder of The Elephant Nature Park, which seeks to reform the way that the Asian elephants are being trained and treated. In 1995, she took it upon herself to change the life of just one Asian elephant. By rescuing just one elephant, she was able to begin a process of change; a grassroots movement to reform the treatment of the Asian elephant. Now, more than 10 years later, she has a 60 acre Elephant Nature Park where she has rescued over 30 elephants from torture and mistreatment; she is truly a Power of One.

I was glad to see that this message hit home with each and every one of our high school students. In our closing circle, the students explained the ways that they were going to reevaluate their lives and values when they returned home to the United States. Whether it was reconnecting with a distant father, shifting an extremely committed relationship with a boyfriend, learning to be the voice of reason when all her friends wanted to drink all the time, understanding how to stand up to a parent in a constructive way, or learning how to acknowledge the preciousness amenities of life including hot showers and clean bathrooms, each student got it!

No matter what circumstances each of these individuals faced, by traveling many miles across the globe, each was able to look back at his/her life at home and reevaluate it from a new unattached perspective. By separating themselves from all of their previous views and beliefs, and in a way being forcefully shoved outside their original box of possibilities, they were able to radically reinterpret their own lives.

I believe that this is the experience and opportunity that we need to give young adults in order to help them shift the paradigms of the future. Given the normal course of events without travel and new cultural experiences, students will develop habits, patterns, and ways of being to which they will have no comparison. And even worse, they will have no alternate perspective from which to look back at their lives, their communities and themselves. In order for them to be the agents of change in this world, we need to provide them with an outlet to experientially understand possibility. We need to allow them understand that there may be more to the world than the reality that they currently live in and the circle of influence in which they currently operate.

This trip also provided me with personal growth through a drastic shift of perspective in my own life. When I drove across the country this past fall, I learned a lot about the United States and saw poverty in a whole new light. It made me realize that the world was a lot bigger than just me and my local Boston community. And then when I traveled to Thailand, I learned not only that the world was a lot bigger than just the United States, but also there was a lot more on it than just human beings. It may seem obvious, but plants and animals are a large part of the life on this planet!

And interestingly, it was through this understanding of the vastness of nature and the vastness of the global community that I realized I needed to begin by making an impact on a much smaller scale. (…at least for the immediate future…) I will be able to find satisfaction and fulfillment by simply affecting the lives of the people around me. And if it is just one person and one relationship, then so be it!

Fortunately, being a member of the 47 person group that traveled to Thailand on this trip, I saw how easily I could affect more than just one person. On the trip, I helped serve as a volunteer coordinator to effectively run a 20 person mud brick making operation; I put on make up and performed a Thai dance making hundreds of people laugh; and I had deep, meaningful , genuine conversations with many students and mentors on the trip. And it was amazing that when I was just being myself and channeling the spirit, the energy, and the words that naturally came to me I had an impact on so many people’s lives. I understood how to be a Power of One. I got in touch with my personal ability to make a difference in the world and that the difference is in the lives of those around me!

So the message and the lesson is this: Your reality is as small or as big as you want it to be. If it is demeaning to think of it as small or daunting to think of it as big, then shift your perspective. You can only be who you are. And furthermore, understand that who you are will inevitably make a difference in this world. By acknowledging this difference internally you will get more satisfaction and fulfillment in your life. Your difference can be creating a new paradigm for green construction, volunteering your time at a homeless shelter, saving elephants in Thailand, donating money to good cause, eliciting a smile from your neighbor, or picking up a piece of trash on the street. We live in one large interconnected community; every action has a reaction and every cause has an effect. Your small difference will have a much larger impact even if that impact never directly reveals itself to you! Take a moment to be the observer and evaluate your life as these high school students did. You only need to affect one person to begin to change the world, and, ironically, that one person can even be you!

Be a Power of One!

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1.02.2008

Welcome to Bangkok

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Welcome to Bangkok!

These are my pictures and videos from four days exploring the city of Bangkok. You will see some of the sights and sounds from our many adventures. We rode in took tooks, fed ostriches, saw a lady boy cabaret show, visited the bridge over the River Kwai and Ayutyah Temples, saw reclining Buddhas, and much more!

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I am now at the Elephant Nature Park in Chang-Mai in the north of Thailand. We are serving as volunteers, which involves feeding the elephants, bathing the elephants, shoveling the elephant's kishan, making kishan and straw bricks, meeting the elephants, and a whole lot more!

On the steps of Wat Phra Thai Doi Suthep in Chiang-Mai

In the temple of Wat Suan Dok in Chiang-Mai

Lighting a Luck Balloon on New Year's Eve with Dow, Ping-Pong, and Sandy

Sunset on the Elephant Nature Park

Feeding an elephant bananas and watermelon

Thai Student Dancers Jang (14), Biw (16), and Toon(17) with Max "Jack Sparrow" Woolf (26)

I must find my way to bed, but I will give you more of the many insights on life, elephants, and rock-n-roll when I have time...