Can we talk? About greed?

GREED. That’s a strong word, I know. It’s not one we mention or even see mentioned very often. I think we are making a mistake, however, by avoiding it.

Sculpture: Deadly Sins (Snowglobes): Greed, Pure Products USA, by Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese, Eyebeam Open Studios Fall 2009 / 20091023.10D.55558.P1.L1.SQ / SML
Creative Commons License See-ming Lee via Compfight

Do you notice when the feelings of greed get a hold of you? I have been trying to pay attention to when I feel greedy. When I place my needs ahead of the needs of others (it’s easiest when they are faceless and nameless). When I feel like I “need” something or even “want” something so badly that I am willing to grab it before someone else does. Or when I decide I want whatever it is and the heck with the consequences.

You deserve a break today.

I’m worth it.

Sometimes I justify my desire by telling myself I “deserve” it. I worked so hard last week, that I “deserve” to drive miles across town to see a movie. I have noticed all these advertising campaigns telling me over and over how I “earned” x (fill in the blank for yourself) or how I “deserve” to “reward” myself. Well since it’s the advertising industry telling me that, and not my best friend, I have to wonder: why are they telling me that. Oh right, it’s because it’s their job to sell me stuff.

Treat yourself this Mother’s Day.

Treat yourself to the best.


Greed operates most freely when I have been tricked into believing the myth of scarcity—that there isn’t enough for me and for you. To the winner go the spoils. Winner takes all. It’s a competition, a race to the top. And of course, there isn’t room for all of us at “the top,” wherever that is.

This is a dangerous path to tread. Not only dangerous to those around me (and those far away as I externalize the price of meeting my needs) but dangerous to me. To who I am inside, to my humanity. As soon as I let greed take over, I am stepping all over not just the other human beings around me, but also the human being inside of me.

We are fooled into believing that greed can get us ahead, that it makes our lives better, easier, more successful. We can look to Wall Street*, and sometimes even Main Street, for examples of the champions of such material and financial “success.” But the reality is that greed leads us away from a human (or humane) path. When we act on greed, we are  controlled by it, and we are collaborating with an oppressive system that makes some of us winners and many many others losers. We are selling out the human inside of us, in order to feed our inner consumer. The one, incidentally, that is never satiated.

stop greed

What do we do about it? We can begin by recognizing the damage it causes us all. The way our greed affects others—many of whom we will never, ever know. And the way it eats at our insides. We get to face the fears that this profit-oriented society uses to keep us in line rather than running from those fears in belief. Is it true that there is not enough for us all? Is it true that in order for you to win, I must lose?

That’s why I say: open our hearts to greed. Open our hearts to it so we may see it and know it. Introduce yourself. Get acquainted with it. Let our greed know that we aren’t going to let it call the shots. Not if you we help it.

*Nearly 40 percent of financial services employees working on Wall Street for 10 years or less said they would engage in insider trading to make $10 million — if they knew they could get away with it, according to the survey conducted by the law firm Labaton Sucharow.

When do you feel greedy? Like you want whatever-it-is at any price? What are you prepared (or not prepared) to give up? Can you tell the toll greed takes on you? Let’s get the conversation going, and if you have already started this conversation in your community, well done. It’s time. Share your thoughts. Please click on the title of the post above, to go to its page and post your comment.

Hello Again

Sorry to have been out of touch. No, emails haven’t gotten buried in your spam folder—it’s just been a while since I have written. Not since leaving Tepoztlán, México.

The household items and clothes we leave behind are loaded on Chano's truck.

The household items and clothes we leave behind are loaded on Chano’s truck.


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Bags are packed.

Back home now. We’ve been stateside for over four months. Back in the good old US of A. Back in our not-so-comfortable comfort-zone.

We had a lot to catch-up with upon our arrival. An arrival which was delayed by 24 hours because we were leaving Mexico illegally. (But that’s a story for another time.) Our house was being painted and we had to move everything back in. The days flew by in a blur. Lea jumped back into 4th grade for the last 10 days of school. I was immediately taking care of maintenance issues in the apartments. And Kimberly was filing paperwork with the school district. It was as if we parachuted onto the top of a moving bus (as Bond must have done that in one episode or another), and were trying to keep our balance in the wind—all whilst unpacking our luggage and reclaiming our home. (Truth is, there is still lots of things we haven’t unpacked or organized since being home.)

Those relaxed Mexican days seem so far behind us now! The school year is underway. Lea has transferred her new-found fútbol skills to the local youth soccer league. Kimberly is teaching in a new school. And everyone is busy! Busy, busy, busy. It’s the common affliction of our 21st century society.

Back in Tepoztlán, it’s general practice to stop and greet every person you meet. To talk about the weather, ask about the family, wish one another a fine day. Here, it’s a matter of saying “letscatchupsometime” to everyone we meet and hoping that we actually get the chance!

How do you manage life the busy-ness of life in early 21st century US of A? How do find time to you take care of yourself, of your family, of your community in this society where we are so busy working and “getting things done”? What have you figured out to better match your priorities with how you spend your time? And what obstacles do you face in trying to do so? I’d like to know! :-)  Share your thoughts. Please click on the title of the post above, to go to its page and post your comment.

What to Bring Home?

So we’re heading home soon, after spending the last 8 months here in México and the last 9 months away from home. It has been an amazing experience. Really. My family and I have been blessed by the opportunity to travel, to live abroad, to spend time in other cultures. We have learned so much. A question I have for myself and for my wife and daughter is, “what do we want to bring back home with us?”

Appreciation! Gratitude! Thanks! Blessings!IMG 7142

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Gratefulness for…

•our connection with each other.

We have spent so much time together, been through a lot together. We’ve schlepped our backpacks through cold days in Warsaw without knowing where we were going. Slept in a room in Paris with 10(!) strangers and barely enough room on the floor to step to the bathroom. Forced ourselves to eat when we weren’t hungry at a doting and loving relative’s apartment. Lived through a horrid infestation of head lice—one that didn’t seem to ever stop. And spent the last 8 months in a foreign culture, surrounded by a different language, customs and practices. We’ve come a long way together and I feel it has made us stronger as a family, having to depend on each other day-in and day-out—yes, even when we weren’t getting along or all of us felt grumpy about whatever. And there were a few days like that!

• for different customs.

Every day has been chock-full of lessons for us. So many that we can’t begin to even recount them all. And along the way, we caught ourselves being judgmental or critical of the way things are done in another place. Until we got to the point where it became background noise and we found ourselves trying on what we took to be the local perspective. Can’t tell you how many times the shoe repair guy told Kimberly that her shoes would be ready “mañana.” Eventually, we understood that mañana did not mean tomorrow—it meant some indefinite time in the future. In the end, the only way Kimberly actually got her shoes repaired was by coming back three times in the same day, the last time after he finally said, come back in an hour.

• for a shift in priorities.

It’s not about efficiency here. It’s not about “gettin it done.” It’s more about being easy-going and dealing with the vagaries of the system and people. Both doing what they can do and no more. There is less exhortation and more easy-come-easy-go. What you don’t get to today, you’ll get to tomorrow. Or maybe not, but does it really matter that much in the end? School is closed today because of a death of a teacher’s family member. The paint job wasn’t finished because the delivery guy from the paint store never showed up. The baker made less bread because there was no electricity for the dough mixer so what he did knead, he kneaded by hand. A young man you were expecting at co-counseling class couldn’t come because the errands he had to do in Mexico City took waaay more time than was expected. The plan you made with your shopkeeper friend to go to Yautepec isn’t going to happen today (or any day) because he had to leave earlier than he told you the day before. The swim class is cancelled for today because the pool is dirty. Is drinking water “falling” at the faucet in the street now, today? If not, try earlier. Or try later. Or better to walk to the other faucet where it may be falling. And no one is to blame for anything. “Así es,” is a common refrain, which means more-or-less “that’s the way it is” or “so it goes.”

• for those who live in new places with different customs and language.

This has not been easy. And that’s even after having come here for the past four years! And having spoken some Spanish. I can’t help but think about families who, for economic reasons or due to war or drought or who-knows-what, have had to pick up and move themselves across borders and oceans. Arrive in a new place where everything is different. The food, the drink, the small-talk (which you can’t understand anyhow–how often I am in the dark about the conversation!), even something as simple as the day-to-day customs of saying hello or goodbye. (For instance, I still don’t know when it’s appropriate to kiss someone on the cheeck or simply say goodbye with a wave and an “adiós.”)  Imagine the experiences of families forced to relocate permanently in a new location! My gosh, next to them, this has been a cake-walk.

• for the hospitality, warmth and welcome shown to us.

In this town, we are greeted non-stop as we walk up and down the cobblestone streets. And in some cases, it’s a stop-and-chat greeting. So that no matter how late you are running, you stop to exchange a few words (the usual: how are you? how about this weather? what’s new). Folks are happy to see us, excited to learn where we are from and what we think about the village. And we tell them! Yes, this is a magical village and the people, the scenery, the weather, the customs are wonderful and precious.

What is something you have “brought home” from your travels? What lessons did you learn? Could you bring those lessons home? What was/is hard about carrying it with you into your life at home?

Although it may be easier to “bring things home” when one travels, there are many ways to find things worth bringing home. What have you brought home? What would you like to bring home?  Chime in below, if you are so moved.

Talking About Oppression

First, a nod to Tracy Chapman for her powerful and moving song “Talkin Bout a Revolution,” which came immediately to mind as I thought about writing this post.

I have been so very fortunate to have the opportunity to get to know and talk with a small group of young activists in this community in Central Mexico. We’ve been talking about oppression–about how oppression has developed over the course of human history, how it hit us when we were born into this society, how it continues to affect us today, and how to work to end oppression.


The young people in this village—like young people everywhere—are hit heavily by oppressive forces in the society. Messages that tell them who they should be, what they should do, how they should behave, and what their rewards will be if they conform.

We talked (in English and in Spanish) about how as babies we arrive here expecting to land in the world of our dreams.


Babies arrive fully human, and fully formed. Sure, we don’t have much experience with the world, but we know our own minds and we know what we want and what we need. It’s confusing when those around us don’t realize that and treat us as if we don’t have our own mind and free will.

babcia & lea

We expect to be welcomed, treated with respect, loved and held close. We expect our parents and the other adults (and young people) around us to be free of distress and to delight in our presence. We don’t realize that they already carry the scars of growing up and living in a oppressive society, filled with adultism, sexism, classism, racism and so on. If they hadn’t already been slammed by those isms, they would be much better able to “be there” for us, and to treat us as we deserve to be treated.


It was so fulfilling to me to get to speak to these young activists because I do respect the work they do and their success at conserving this community. There is a very committed group of activists in this community who continue a long legacy of maintaining community customs & traditions, as well as working to protect the villagers’ autonomy and right to self-determination.


Most recently, the local youth group, Frente Juvenile en Defensa de Tepoztlán helped organize brigades of volunteers to put out the forest fires in the mountains surrounding the town. Members of the group fought fires, built firebreaks, and solicited support for their activities by collecting food, water and tools for the volunteer firefighters.


I told these young adults that one of the first steps in fighting oppression is becoming aware of it and talking about it. Doing so is talking bout a revolution and it sounds like a whisper–but en voz alta. Out loud.


Photo credits: Jewish Federations of North America, Fonte Silvia Meo via Compfight


When have you stood up for a young person against oppressive pressures from school, society, or other adults? Do you remember an adult standing up for you when you were young? If you could return to your younger self today as an adult ally, what conversation would you have with her? How do you model human liberation for the people around you—especially but not only the younger generation?

If you are a young adult, when have you stood up for yourself? And what support would you like from your adult allies?

Chime in with your thoughts by clicking the blog post title above. This will bring you to the post page which offers the opportunity for your comments.

Self Care

Practicing self care.

A bowl of salad 

Let’s make the assumption that it makes as much sense for us to care for ourselves as it does for us to care for others. That taking care of ourselves is as important as taking care of others.


Yet we all know how easy it is to let self care get pushed aside. Although we often think of our society as the pinnacle of all societies—and I do believe in some ways it is a vast improvement over earlier economic systems such as feudalism and slavery—it is still quite hard on many, many people. In fact, it’s hard on all of us in different ways. One way it is hard on folks who work long hours, including both working- and middle-class workers, is that it robs us of our time. Including time that we would otherwise use for self care.

Power Yoga Video Class Extended Side Angle Pose - Utthita Parsvakonasana 

I am extremely fortunate that I don’t have the pressures of a 9 to 5 (or 8 to 6) job. I don’t need to punch the clock somewhere. But even so, I sometimes feel that I shouldn’t be taking time in the morning to do yoga. And recently I read about the benefits of taking a short nap (even 15 minutes) in the early afternoon–but how many of us can easily incorporate that into our workplace life?


So there are two examples–exercise and rest. What do you do for exercise? How often can you manage to make time in your schedule for physical activity? What pressures do you face in doing do? And as for rest, how much rest do you get? Do you sleep as much as your body needs?

What else falls in this category of self care? Our dietary habits. Attending to our medical needs. Making time for relaxation. Giving attention to our spiritual needs. Our emotional needs. Are there other needs that you can think of? Other ways we can take care of ourselves?

Photo credits: Anushruti RK via Compfight, Glen Scott via Compfight, My Yoga Online via Compfight, Alessandro Pinna via Compfight.

Explosion and Fire: Rising to the Challenge in Tepoztlán

NewImage.png—One morning last week we were awoken by a disturbing series of explosions. As we shook off our slumber, we saw a column of flame in the pre-dawn darkness. We are not far from the autopista (highway) and I guessed that there was an accident involving some sort of gas or chemical truck. Lots of trucks climb and descend the steep tollroad here, which connects Mexico City with Puebla. We often hear them during the night.

What happened was a little different than I imagined…. Continue reading

To Get To “Can” Start With “Try”


When I was in middle school, I was invited to join a swim team at the pool where I had been taking swim lessons. I think I considered the possibility for about half-a-second, and promptly decided “I’m not interested.”

Looking back, it’s clear that I was interested. But in addition to being interested, eager, curious, excited at the possibility, intrigued Continue reading

A Tribute to Mothers–especially MY mom!

In May 2012, I celebrated Mother’s Day by sharing some words about my mom in front of a live audience at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison.

It was a thrill and an honor.

It’s called “Listen to Your Mother” and it was the third annual. The show was all about motherhood. And it was all women—except for me. Continue reading