This episode includes a rendering of a PechaKucha talk I gave in Portland, Oregon in June 2017. The theme of the night was “Needs vs. Desires” and each speaker approached the theme from a very different angle. PechaKucha is best described as a snappy, pithy Ted Talk delivered in exactly 6 minutes and 40 seconds. The unique format requires speakers to produce 20 slides that automatically rotate every 20 seconds. This leaves very little room for error, and as I discuss in the introduction, this may have been the most challenging talk I’ve delivered.
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Here below you’ll find each of the 20 slides with the corresponding dialogue directly below.
Many are familiar with the 1 percent in America and know that they hold 1/3 of private wealth in our country. We call them greedy and apathetic to the problems faced the other 99 percent, believing they possess the resource necessary to solve problems but neglect to.
But when we take an astronauts eye view of planet earth we see no countries, we have to ask who is the global 1% and, as they hold 50% of global wealth, what problems may they be apathetic to? If you make 55,000 dollars per year in American, you are the global 1%. If you live at the poverty level of 11,880 per year, you’re still the wealthiest 15% of humans on planet earth.
World Bank economist believe that 80 percent of lifetime income variability can be explained by your country and demographics the day you’re born. In other words, if you were born in India with the same level of intelligence and the same work ethic at the same rung of society, your income would likely be able to afford 1/40th as many things as you can afford today. So, put simply, we’re lucky.
In exploring 60 countries, I’ve seen 60 different definitions of need. But regardless of the borders we happened to be born within, we’re all humans right? And as much as we like to focus on our differences between countries and cultures, our human bodies all need a few of the same things to survive.
We all need water, we all need food, we all need rest, and warmth. These are the basics of survival, and once these needs are met, we can enrich our survival with other comforts that increase our quality of life but will not often be the difference between life and death.
For us here, as the global 15%, threats of dying of starvation or freezing to death are all but nonexistent given the welfare and safety nets provided by the country we live in, as imperfect as our welfare may be. But there exist many places where such fundamental safety nets are absent.
At the other end of the fortune spectrum, half the human populations was born into a circumstance where they live on less than 4 dollars per day. And the bottom 15%, over 1 billion people, they subsist on about the equivalent of what 500 dollars per year can afford in America, consuming half their recommended caloric intake.
Most of us desire to live in a just and equitable world. But when wellbeing is so often allocated by arbitrary birth lottery, it can be difficult to accept that we live in a world in which we won that lottery without ever buying a ticket, when so many others lost.
And when confronted with such upsetting and inconvenient realities, our minds tend to desire one of two things, to either dwell on or to deny this reality. Yet neither of these responses will serve to help anybody. But taking informed actions can and will help when our actions are effective.
Empathy has two definitions. The first is the ability to understand the feelings of others. And the second is to feel the feelings of others. Well, when we look at the magnitude of suffering in the world, feeling those feelings of the bottom billion, will be more crippling than it will be useful. But cultivating compassion through understanding them, this is useful.
And this compassion is most useful when applied thoughtfully and strategically. We can call this rational compassion. Rational compassion stems from the heart and from the brain, using emotion as fuel for logical-driven benevolence and more effectiveness in our altruism.
We certainly don’t need to be compassionate to survive. And we don’t need to apply our compassion rationally. But if we really do desire a better world for others and happiness for ourselves, than rational compassion and effective altruism are a great starting place.
But this better world we desire, what does it look like? Is it a world where poverty is eradicated, or do we go beyond that, a world where every human from every country is living a deeply enriched life, through a high level of conscious experience?
Well, both worlds are better, but an enriched humanity would be best. But, unfortunately, when basic needs of so many are not met, high levels of enrichment are available only in isolated bubbles yet out of reach for humanity as a whole. So maybe the first step towards the enriched world we desire most is meeting the basic needs of those most lacking?
When waking hours are dominated by basic subsistence, by fetching water and firewood, how can we expect people to discover the enrichment of artistic expression, philosophy, higher learning and self love, and all the themes of our transformational wellness retreats and self actualization books.
But when basic needs are met and basic healthcare is provided, we empower, we loosen circumstancial traps and we move humanity as a collective, not just our own country or our own community because we all on this earth together, we move humanity a bit closer towards an enriched experience.
And we also enrich ourselves as individuals in the process. Through fMRI technology, we know that giving, whether money, time or energy, stimulates the same part of the brain as good food and good sex. And study after study confirms those ancient proverbs that told us we are significantly happier giving to others than to ourselves.
And even more studies show us that giving our money, time and energy frequently to specific initiatives with high levels of confidence in their results, may in fact be the largest single contributor to our long term happiness.
We’re here today discussing needs versus desires. But when we’re trying to make the world a better place, fortunately, needs and desires are symbiotic.
By utilizing all the information we have at our disposal in 2017 to most effectively harness our resources, as the global 15%, to help meet the basic needs of the most circumstantially trapped 15%, we alleviate extreme suffering, we save lives, while moving humanity closer towards that more enriched world we desire most, and we find personal happiness and fulfillment in the process. And that’s certainly something I desire to see.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS AND THANKS
A very special thank you to HÄANA (Violinist, vocalist and producer) and Cello Joe for allowing me to use their beautiful music throughout this episode. They are two of my favorite artists and I’m super happy to be able to share their music with you all. You can find HÄANA on SoundCloud, on Facebook, and on iTunes, and Cello Joe on SoundCloud, on Facebook, on YouTube, and on Band Camp.
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