Signpostings

Relationships in a World of Individualism

  • rWorld

    The rWorld is about more than Dale Kuehne's book Sex and the iWorld.
    The rWorld is a New England based, non-profit (in formation), that is composed of a growing number of people and organizations from many faith and ideological backgrounds worldwide. We believe that much of the fulfillment for which women and men are looking can be found by enhancing the quality of our relationships. While the individual freedom we enjoy in the West is a gift, the love and intimacy for which humans yearn will not be found in self-serving materialism or hedonism, but in a variety of healthy relationships.

    Contact us if you'd like get involved:
    scr.im/rwld

  • Dale Kuehne

    Sex & the iWorld

    Professor of Politics and The Richard L. Bready Chair for Ethics, Economics, and the Common Good at Saint Anselm College, Manchester, NH.

    In this blog I'm highlighting signposts of the world in which we presently reside as a means of helping promote a civil, and meaningful dialogue about what kind of world in which we wish to live. I am particularly interested in exploring how might we reconcile the individual good and the common good, and where reconciliation isn’t possible, which should take precedence and why.

    I also blog at Sharewik.com

    [Content Caution]

Archive for the ‘RelationalProximity’ Category

Emerging Adulthood and Post-Modern Love

Posted by Dale Kuehne on January 23, 2014

The Wall Street Journal on post-modern marriage … delayed … love … at a distance.

http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303802904579334761741147586?mg=reno64-wsj&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052702303802904579334761741147586.html#mod=todays_us_personal_journal

I know when to go out
I know when to stay in
Get things done

I catch the paper boy
But things don’t really change
I’m standing in the wind
But I never wave bye bye
But I try, I try

There’s no sign of life
It’s just the power to charm
I’m lyin’ in the rain
But I never wave bye bye
But I try, I try

Never gonna fall for
Modern love, walks beside me
Modern love, walks on by
Modern love, gets me to
The church on time

Church on time, terrifies me
Church on time, makes me party
Church on time, puts my trust
In God and man

God and man, no confessions
God and man, no religion
God and man, don’t believe
In modern love

It’s not really work
It’s just the power to charm
I’m still standing in the wind
But I never wave bye bye
But I try, I try

Never gonna fall for
Modern love, walks beside me
Modern love, walks on by
Modern love, gets me to
The church on time

Church on time, terrifies me
Church on time, makes me party
Church on time, puts my trust
In God and man

God and man, no confessions
God and man, no religion
God and man, don’t believe
In modern love

Modern love, walks beside me
Modern love, walks on by
Modern love, gets me to
The church on time

Church on time, terrifies me
Church on time, makes me party
Church on time, puts my trust
In God and man

God and man, no confessions
God and man, no religion
God and man, I don’t believe
In modern love

Modern love, modern love, modern love
Modern love, modern love, modern love
Modern love, modern love, modern love
Modern love, modern love, modern love

Modern love, walks beside me
(Modern love)
Modern love, walks on by
(Modern love)
Modern love, walks beside me
(Modern love)

Modern love, walks on by
(Modern love)
Never gonna fall for modern love
(Modern love)

Modern Love by David Bowie from Let’s Dance (1983)

Posted in iWorld, music, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Rediscovering the Secret of Marriage: One Course at a Time

Posted by Dale Kuehne on December 29, 2013

There is hope for marriage. The Guardian doesn’t understand why, but the reporter discovered a marriage course in London that actually saves marriage.

What the journalist didn’t say is that the course is working all over the world. Recently the Chinese government asked the Lee’s to bring the marriage course to China. Simply because it works.

Like gravity there is a relational physics that dictates what works and what doesn’t.

There are reasons why marriage works and why it doesn’t.

Even if no one understands why.

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2013/dec/28/mission-to-save-marriages

Do you know what I think of you?
Do you know what I feel is true?
Do you know what I think of her?
I know what she thinks of me, I’m sure
Don’t know why it’s so, but it’s true!
So you know what I think about you
But do you know what you want me to do?
When you see me staring at you
Do you know what I want you to do?
I don’t know why it’s so, but it’s true!
I don’t want to have sex with you
I want to be your friend
I want to be with you
I want you to marry me
Now you know what I think about you
You know that my speed is you
I know I want you to be my wife
And be with me the rest of your life
Do you know what I think about you?

Marriage by Descendants from Milo Goes to College (1982)

Posted in Health and Wellness, iWorld, music, RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Praying for Theo

Posted by Dale Kuehne on March 19, 2013

Even as I publish this, the life of 15 year-old Theo Menswar hangs in the balance. The medical community is telling us he is living on borrowed time, though Theo doesn’t seem to agree. I spent the end of last week with Theo and his family, Brant, Emily, and Brady Menswar. I expected great sadness, but what I found in the midst of exhaustion and weariness was a presence of comfort beyond explanation.

You can find my attempt to find words for this in my latest sharewik blog:

http://stories.sharewik.com/blogs/item/praying-for-theo

Breathing in and breathing out
My head leaned back my hands are tied
I stand in here alone I scream, questions why
Days slip by and nights I taste
These memories run through my veins
Injecting me with one last kiss, screaming why

This medication can’t save me
This desperation takes hold of me
I wanted to believe in all of this
I wanted to believe in you

All I am, all I have
Leads me down these roads again
Take my hand, show me the way
And never bring me back here

Determination, is pushing me
Perseverance, is what I bleed
I wanted to believe in all of this
I wanted to believe in you

All I am, all I have
Leads me down these roads again
Take my hand, show me the way
And never bring me back here

These are my unanswered prayers
The time has come for me to say goodbye

God please hear me, calling

All I am, all I have
Leads me down these roads again
Take my hand, show me the way
And never bring me back here

These are my unanswered prayers
the time has come for me to say goodbye

God please hear me, calling

Prayers by In this Moment from Beautiful Tragedy (2007)

Posted in Health and Wellness, RelationalProximity, rWorld | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving 30: Non-Memorial Day (Continuity, Commonality/Identity)

Posted by Simon on February 26, 2011

Memorial Day in the US is the last Monday in May. It’s equivalent to UK Remembrance Sunday which is second Sunday in November. And the message from both seems straightforward: don’t take your freedoms for granted since it was secured by the sacrifice of others, so remember them, and be thankful. Even today there are those dying so that others might be free, so remember them too.

Relational Proximity Dimension #2 is Continuity: A relationship is formed and strengthened by the amount, frequency and span of time we are together. It includes a sense of shared history, and an anticipation of the future.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity.

“A nation is a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future. It presupposes a past; it is summarized, however, in the present by a tangible fact, namely, consent, the clearly expressed desire to continue a common life. A nation’s existence is, if you will pardon the metaphor, a daily plebiscite, just as an individual’s existence is a perpetual affirmation of life. – Ernest Renan”

The above quote (given to me by my friend Dana on a comment on the original run of this series) sums up very well what Memorial Day, and Fourth of July, does functionally for people who call the United States of America their nation. Without conscious remembrance of the sacrifices of the past, a people may well forget who they are or why they are. You can’t build a national identity on a shared history if you don’t continually think about or remember that history. And you can’t build a common identity if you don’t ‘share’ – agree with – the reason for the sacrifices in the first place or if you don’t know or agree on what your ‘common life’ is for which you’d be prepared to sacrifice your life.

The combination of the lack of conscious remembrance and a vehement disagreement over the purpose of recent sacrifices seems to be one reason for a loss of national identity within western nations. I don’t know if you feel it, but I feel it.

But it’s an odd, and slightly uncomfortable, thing to build an identity on a common suffering and death even though that’s the normal context for reference to a nation’s character (i.e. who they are); 9/11 being the most recent example. I say ‘build’ as though it’s a conscious act, but of course identity and commonality is something inexplicable and unique that emerges from that cauldron of suffering. Those who have been through it, like soldiers in war, just know … they just KNOW … what binds them together. And when they forget what it was that bound them, then bound they are no more.

One wonders why then do we want to keep remembering the pain, the suffering, the injustice, the cruelty? Why not forget? Why not instead focus on the future, build something new? Or find something else, something stronger, more positive from the past. Or find something transcendent, something not contingent on circumstance. In fact there’s a paradox in that justice and truth screams at us to keep remembering, to never forget! But the goal of remembering, the goal of all proper attention to evil and injustice, is redemption, restoration, justice and peace. The hopeful future together presupposes the redeemed past together.

This paradox is embedded in the title of the book, “The End of Memory: Remembering rightly in a violent world” (which I haven’t read yet so what follows is pieced together from reviews). In it, the author Miroslav Volf – himself trying to ‘forget’ his experience of interrogation in former Yugoslavia – proposes the need and importance of ‘non-remembering’: “To be fully overcome, evildoing must be consigned to its proper place – nothingness”. But he’s not simply saying, “forgive and forget”. He’s talking about a right kind of remembering, the kind that has an aim to know the truth of what really happened in all its ugliness. The kind that for the sake of justice, Will Not Forget! That’s the “end’, the goal, of memory: to expose and reveal the truth. But ultimately, one wants to really ‘end’ remembering suffering and death. One wants just to not have to remember any more.

Like I say, I haven’t read the book, so I hope I’ve correctly got to the essence of it. But regardless, it does seem there’s a paradox here with memory and memorializing.

It’s likely Memorial weekend is just a long holiday weekend for a lot of people. Time to really gear up for summer. Unless, that is, you happen upon a parade (as we had in Somerville one day; that’s my daughter M~ above), or have lost someone in the theatre of war so cannot help remembering. And even if for those watching the parades, and participating. I do wonder how much we’re really remembering as we should, so that we can stop remembering as we should.

Paying proper close attention to – really remembering – the fact and reason for the sacrifice may yet restore a sense of commonality and pride in one’s national identity. The people of the United States have made many, many sacrifices for others. Perhaps with some courageous remembering, the right kind of remembering – even of recent wards – there’s a chance the people of this nation could really feel “a large-scale solidarity, constituted by the feeling of the sacrifices that one has made in the past and of those that one is prepared to make in the future.”

As an Englishman, whose father served in Normandy in WWII and died last Remembrance Sunday, Nov 8 2009, I remember and thank you, people of the United States, and your sons & daughters who have given so much for us.

This post draws this series to a close. Please do comment and let us know how these reflections have helped you view life through the lens of relationships. Please see the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.

Posted in RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

rLiving 29: Blogging, Tweeting and Paranoia (Directness, Commonality)

Posted by Simon on February 25, 2011

It had to happen, and frankly I was amazed it took until day 29 to get there. But one night during the original run through of this series I found myself totally uninspired on what to write about and desperately wishing the 30-day project was over. I was also unbelievably tired – I’d had some of the most intense weeks at work just when I was spending a couple of hours a night trying for the first to work out and write out things I’d pondered for years. Maybe it takes 30 days to break/form a habit, not 21? It seems to be when you’re near completion of a stretch goal that your metal is tested.

As I sat at my laptop that evening I started doubting why I was doing this. And I started getting a little paranoid. I knew people had been reading the blog, but who?! And why did the page views go from 80+ one day to 15 the next?!! Numbers are a pathetic and pointless thing to start worrying about when you’re blogging, or tweeting – unless you’re trying to make money out of ad clicks. Coincidentally that past couple of weeks I’d also started wondering why other twitter people I’m following tweeted and re-tweeted each other but not me!

This is an embarrassing paranoia. But it does make me think about ‘relationships’ with people in these two social media. I know personally all the people who have commented on this blog series, or commented on my facebook status blog update. And that’s 7 people in total. Two people who I don’t know personally had kindly referred to this blog series; one on twitter (@marciamarcia) and one on his own popular blog (@scotmcnight). But I’d only had one direct back-and-forth conversation, and that on an administrative matter, with only one of them. The link from Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog generated an all-time peak of page-views (near 180) the previous weekend. So I was delighted and encouraged by the interest from Scot and his readers, but I still only knew and had interacted with those seven people. So as far as I was concerned it only felt like I had a ‘relationship’ with those seven.

Relational Proximity Dimension #1 is “Directness”. My relationship with someone is better and healthier the less mediated it is. It can be mediated by technology or other people: these reduce our ability to communicate fully and know each other better.

An awareness of ‘Directness’ makes me think of mutuality in social media. So knowing there are other people reading my blog but that I’m not being able to communicate with them makes me feel … well, paranoid! Literally, it’s like knowing people are watching me, but I don’t know who they are or what they’re thinking. So who wouldn’t be paranoid!!? I’d rather not think about them too much.

Relational Proximity Dimension #5 is Purpose/Commonality: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

And yet, I had a specific shared ‘Commonality’ around the topic of relationships with the daily 50-90+ ‘readers’ (unless the page-views are all from bots) that I didn’t have with others. The blog ad been one of the only public means by which I’d shared my own attempts to work out how Relational Proximity might apply to life. So I had what almost feels like an intimacy with these people, like they might understand me, that I don’t with others. Of course I needed to make a number of assumptions about the page-views; for instance, that they are interested, and that if several different posts are clicked on then there’s even more interest. On one post I’d used the term ‘dear readers’ so clearly I felt like I had a relationship with them/you. I feel like I have an actual ‘community’ of sorts, bound by commonality even if not by directness.

So I ended with no idea what to think, but I got a blog out of it!

Interestingly, reposting this series on this blog has elicited rarely more than 18 hits, far fewer than the first time, but for some reason I feel less concerned about it.

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]

Posted in RelationalProximity | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

rLiving 28: Forgiveness (Power)

Posted by Simon on February 24, 2011

Ill-health and even violence in a relationship between individuals, groups, tribes and nations is likely most often due to an asymmetry in power. More likely it’s due to an abuse, real or perceived, of that asymmetry by the powerful over the powerless. And even more likely it’s due to an acute sense of injustice over past abuses and an unwillingness or inability to forgive.

When you’ve been the victim of what you perceive to be an injustice you feel like someone owes you something. There’s a debt outstanding. And until that debt is paid, until “justice is done”, you cannot rest easy and certainly your relationship with that person or tribe or institution will not be happy or healthy. The deep tragedy of those unwilling to forgive, however, is that non-forgiveness represents a holding on, almost a dependency, almost a sense of powerlessness. It’s as though the offender dominates you, controls and manipulates you, keeps you from sleeping, keeps you from enjoying yourself, keeps you from “moving on” to form new and better relationships. And all this while they, usually, walk around blissfully unaware they’ve done anything wrong!

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

That all sounds like a major power asymmetry to me. But in this case the exercise of that power, in what almost feels like even further abuse, is entirely self-inflicted. Yes, of course, if the offender somehow repays something then in a sense justice is done. But their attempts at righting the wrong mean nothing if you don’t forgive them.

From these posts here and here it seems that one of the major reasons for relational problems caused by power asymmetry is that we equate power with value. The second major reason is that we ascribe or devolve power to another simply by not forgiving them. These two things we can evidently do something about. Can you imagine the mental and relational liberation it would be if we saw people as equally valuable (no matter how powerful they were) and if we forgave them (even if they didn’t seek forgiveness)? These things are within our responsibility and ability to do.

The Power problem of forgiveness also works the other way, maybe more so. It’s less about you having a sense of powerlessness because you can’t let go of the offense of the other person. Rather, YOU hold the power over the offender because you refuse to forgive. This is where the language of ‘debt’ is helpful. Who holds the power, the lender or the person with the debt? When we say the Lord’s prayer at our church we say, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”. If you know what it feels not to be forgiven when you’re desperately sorry, you know how much power the offended person has.

In any case, whether you’re the offendor or the offended, whether you feel powerless or powerful, an awareness of this dynamic can help explain why the relationship feels as it does. It also points to the need for candid and courageous conversation where confession and forgiveness can begin.

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]

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rLiving 27: Learning with my CEO (Power)

Posted by Simon on February 23, 2011

“Connections” is an internal collaboration we have where I work to create and sustain ongoing learning and a sense of, well, connection. Every three months a different volunteer runs it, starting with a promotional launch inviting us to request a connection. You just say, “I want to learn about … research/IT/project management/finance/etc.” and they match you with someone. Hopefully you’ll be matched with someone who wants to learn from you also. Then you decide between you how often and for how long to meet over three months, or longer if you so choose.

A connection I was in last year was with my then CEO, ‘Ethan’.

The usefulness of the Relational Proximity model, I’ve come to realize, is not so much about measurement; “where is the relationship on the scale?” of directness, purpose, multiplexity etc. Rather, its usefulness is that simply being aware of those dimensions of a relationship helps me understand my relational/social life, online and offline, better.

Relational Proximity Dimension #4 is Parity. The greater the asymmetry of power between me and someone else the greater the potential for difficult and strained relationships. This asymmetry can be real or perceived, and its affect on relationships can be more about the use and misuse of power than the mere existence of power disparity.

Parity is probably the one dimension if not understood, or more likely, if misunderstood, that can cause the most dysfunction in a relationship. So an awareness of a power asymmetry can be very helpful for explaining why a relationship feels the way it does (whether good or bad). And given further thought it can help redress the imbalance.

But ‘redressing the imbalance’ doesn’t mean making everybody equal. That’s just empirically not true, is a utopian pipe-dream, and represents a total disregard and disrespect for difference. We are equal in VALUE, however. [I realize that ‘value’ could mean ‘value to the company’s objectives’, which may be different for each person, but I’m not using value in that sense.] I’ll say again, power does not equal value. Value is not contingent upon any person or any thing or even on the self, but on God alone (who values each one of us he has made higher than one can possibly imagine, enough to die for. For most of us who struggle to shed a sense of low self-worth, this is very good news!).

Understanding that power differentials exist, and that they don’t mean difference in value, is one thing. One must also understand that power is (should be?) limited to the specific task or goal. I may be stronger than you, but you may know more than me. You may be my boss, but you ain’t my mom! You’re a Police Officer, but I decide what I eat for breakfast.

And so it also goes with knowledge and learning. A difference in knowledge/skill doesn’t mean difference in value. And knowledge/skill is limited, it is not absolute and complete.

In my industry (performance improvement / workplace learning) there’s an incredibly persistent and annoying mindset that if a skill or knowledge needs to be learned, “trainers” or “Learning and Development departments” are the ones to provide it. I guess it’s inevitable in a society that has abdicated all “learning” to educational institutions, teachers, professors, trainers. But it results in learners thinking they can’t learn without teachers/trainers, and in teachers/trainers/L&D depts thinking no-one can learn without them. A good response to that is not – as I seem to see a lot – to take an absurd, almost marxist, suspicion of anyone who purports to “have some expertise worth teaching in some kind of ordered way” as though they’re some kind of fascist, party-pooping, oppressor.

No, a good response is to think: [As a learner] hmmm, how do I do this? maybe I can teach myself? who or what can help me? are there others who are learning the same thing? I don’t know/need what I don’t know, who can help me know what I need(to know)?! [As a ‘person who knows’] hmmm, who might benefit from this? how can I make my expertise/knowledge as easily accessible to others so they don’t have spend 20 yrs learning it? what could be captured and made available using media? what would be best done personally?

And, finally to my point, the ‘learner’ and the ‘person who knows’ may be the same person, depending on the context or topic, and may switch roles even in the middle of a conversation. A student may have knowledge and insight that a professor could learn, but the student ought to listen to what the professor has to say! My technology and workplace learning research may be useful to me CEO. So I’ll want (in fact I do) want to share it with him. Even as I do that, I want to learn from his 20+ years in the performance industry. I also, mainly, want to learn how he runs the business, so I ask. As he teaches me about his stakeholders, what he thinks about, what he worries about, how he makes decisions in his role, he’s interested in my questions and my thoughts. I share some of the research I’ve found that might help him manage some of his dilemmas and challenges.

In these conversations, he is still the CEO with enormous power in his specific role. But we’re of equal value. He also has an expertise and experience vastly greater than mine. But he doesn’t know everything. Because I know these things, because I’m aware of them, I am bold to approach him. Because he knows these things, he is happy to be approached. And so for the last three months we’ve met for half an hour each week, taking turns to share with each other our area of expertise and experience, but both learning.

This isn’t a suck up to the CEO. It’s also not a very sophisticated or radical idea, for us anyway. And it’s also not very complicated. Someone in our company has spear-headed it from the beginning, and she’s found volunteers all along. The sponsorship of Connections by our CEO gave explicit permission for people to spend their time on it. And a naturally curious workforce simply took up the offer of a chance to learn and connect. But I’m REALLY glad I work here!

End note:
Formal schmormal? This whole experience has been designed, you know, formally. Who knows, maybe Ethan will decide there are certain things we discussed he can put on the Knowledge Management system (which he does). Maybe he’ll decide to create a short “CEO for the day” designed classroom experience for more people. It really doesn’t matter whether it’s formal or social learning. Each has it’s place, and each of have roles to play as teachers and learners as we strive to master our arts.

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rLiving 26: Sales Performance (Directness, Continuity, Commonality)

Posted by Simon on February 22, 2011


But, so what?

So what if they lost all those things? The business question is: did sales go down, or go up, because of the decision to stop meeting? Were clients retained? Did those clients spend more? Were negotiations enable bigger margins? Were new prospects found and turned into clients?

It has become well known that employee engagement contributes significantly to performance (see here for a number of cited examples) I’m particularly curious to know to what degree regularly meeting face to face specifically contributes to engagement, and therefore to performance. The research evidence about global teams seems to indicate that regular face to face meetings is an important part, but only a part, of a team’s overall effectiveness. But I’m keen to know the degree to which face to face meetings actually make all the mediated interactions more effective.

If you have any data to share, I’d welcome it!

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]

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rLiving 25: Derivatives! (Directness, Power, Purpose)

Posted by Simon on February 21, 2011

[This is a fairly long post attempting to examine derivatives from a relational perspective. Fun for some! It became evident, three hours into it, that I ain’t an economist! And that there’s more to say.]

Why weren’t derivatives regulated?
In the comments of the original posting of Mortgage Crisis in my own blog, my friend Nick told me about Brooksley Born, former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. Back in 1998, having become increasingly concerned with the lack of transparency of over-the-counter derivatives, and in particular ‘swaps’, the Commission issued a “Request for Comments” report. The report is a first step towards new regulations. One day later, strong objections to the report were made by the chairman of the Federal Reserve (Alan Greenspan), the Treasury Secretary (Robert Rubin) and the SEC Chairman (Arthur Levitt) strongly objected to the release of the report.

So the three most powerful people in US finance opposed a preliminary investigation into the derivatives market. Born, apparently, wasn’t even permitted to take a closer look, let alone issue new regulation.

Why regulation should be a tool of last resort
Now, I don’t honestly know what “Regulation” means when someone says the word. But it seems like people want it used like a very blunt and unimaginative hammer for constraining any excessive human nail. And even if it’s successful at that, it is ill-designed to foster virtuous innovation, creativity and trusting relationships. “Law” does have a place in fostering trust, I guess, by letting everyone know where the boundaries are. But by placing the locus of moral restraint on the law rather than in the human heart and in human relationships, one underestimates what the human heart is capable of and opens up a Pandora’s box of deceitful ingenuity that requires more law.

Regulation because of rejection of transcendent moral authority
If morality is self-determined, that’s fine if what you self-determine is “righteous and good”, but what if it’s not? More laws and regulations, that affect even the righteous, ironically taking us back to something akin to the religious legalism from which we thought we’d liberated ourselves. Most claims for human enlightened progress assume a level of goodness and righteousness that empirically does not exist even in the best of us, and even if it does exist, it’s apparent only in those who make the claim. Without individuals willingly submitting to a moral authority or law that sits outside of their own will – something that causes self-restraint in their actions as they affect others – laws and regulations to keep society functioning at some level are inevitable.

Regulation as “oversight”: observation of actions
The key word for the role of the CFTC, and for regulation in general, is ‘oversight‘. Over. Sight. Looking over … someone is watching! Regulation does provide specific permissions and prohibitions (the creative spirit killer), yes. But the main thing seems to be about disclosure, as with Sarbanes-Oxley for example. That’s what screams “you can’t be trusted with each other!”. No gentleman’s handshake for you two! The authority needs to know, for the sake of everyone else.

Relational analysis of derivatives.
So the big question I want to ask is: how do we create a different form of oversight that is built right into the financial relationships embedded in entrepeneurial activity and human exchanges of labor, material and time? First we have to examine the system relationally.

From Wall St to Farmer Bob. Or, Financial Risk Management made easy (for me to understand)
Farmer Bob wants to harvest a field, but he can’t afford a tractor. A friend has some money to lend him, but with a few other friends they pool it together to help the farmer. Suddenly the farmer’s productivity sky-rockets, he’s even employing more people, developing better farming techniques, trying out organic methods. Only he doesn’t, the tractor blows up. All his friends lose their money. Except they don’t. They get together with yet more friends so that some of the bigger pool of money goes to this farmer, some goes to a milliner, some goes to a guy who’s invented something called a yPed. Two out of three succeed so the larger group still receive a return on their investment. Except they don’t. A tornado rips the local economy to shreds so they lose everything. Except they don’t. They get together with another group of folks out west and pool money to share in even more diverse enterprises: the confidence that a failure at one farm or one town won’t make them bankrupt encourages more people to invest their money in helping more people farm and make hats and yPeds.

And so it goes, the world of financial risk management and economic expansion. Through the eyes of a non-economist.

Financial risk and relational proximity.
In this whole scenario, you can see the possibility of accountability between the people with money and the people who use money to do something creative, productive. There’s a relational proximity between them, though growing more mediated and distant the bigger the pool becomes. There’s no ‘derivative’ pool of money that’s speculating against potential future scenarios. There IS financial speculation, but it’s “invested”, it has a stake in the end product.

Directness. It seems the greater the distance between the lender and Farmer Bob, the greater the chance that the lender will forget there’s a human being trying to make something good at the other end, and will instead only think, “how am I going to make money?”. Equally, there’s a greater the chance Farmer Bob won’t remember there’s a human being who’s risked their money with them. Purpose/Commonality. In other words, there is no longer a shared understanding of the source and purpose of the money. So relational distance (what I’ve called elsewhere, mediated relationships) contributes to a lack of mutual, intrinsic moral accountability – so now you need ‘oversight’, the law, from someone who’s not invested in either party or the relationship. There’s even greater relational distance now because the people ‘with the money’ (e.g. Wall St traders) are not even using their own money, they’re using money invested by millions of people. The traders stand in between million’s of other people and Farmer Bob.

Power. That shift in moral accountability and sense of relational investment is made more problematic by this big pool of money now being concentrated in fewer hands (e.g. Wall St traders). There’s now an enormous power asymmetry. The people with the money, who now have a lesser sense of moral accountability to Farmer Bob, can now dictate terms. The distance means their only purpose is “make more money”. The fact that Farmer Bob needs a tractor is irrelevant to them now (especially because there’s just no way ALL tractors would fail at once, or that ALL resale prices of tractors would drop at once, that would NEVER happen!). The only way to redress the power imbalance in this case is for all the farmers, and everyone else who needs money to buy houses or tractors, to get together as a community (consumer action? social media?). Or else there’s regulation.

So relational distance (directness) causes a loss of shared purpose (purpose!) and a greater possibility of power imbalance (parity).

And I think I’m done.

Except I’m not.

Interest.
None of this horrid scenario would have been possible if there was no interest charged on loans. An interest charge essentially enables the lender to make money out of money. They’re being paid to lend money. So interest creates a loss of shared purpose right at the get go. If, however, the lender received money from the success of the business, THEN, lender and Farmer Bob have shared interest. Bob gets his tractor, lender gets his money because Bob is successful. Yes, pool money with others, pool with even more others, spread the risk. But keep the source of investment income in the form of business productivity, dividends. Not interest.

Now I’m done. For now.

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]

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rLiving 24: A Life (Relationships)

Posted by Simon on February 19, 2011

My dad, Peter George Fowler, died November 8th, 2009, age 85. Three of my sisters were with him in the hospital room in Tewkesbury (England); two holding a hand each, another massaging his feet. I called from Boston and asked to speak to him, so my sister held the cell phone to his ear. He wasn’t able to speak by now, and I don’t know if he could hear me. But I could hear him breathing. For what seemed like the first time in my life, I said out straight, “I love you.” Then, “I’ll see you tomorrow” (having already booked a flight). I hung up, and was called back seconds later to be told he’d just passed away.

For the next hour I sat and cried, along with my sisters on the other end of the phone. But we were mostly silent. My mom arrived with another sister, and we all sat some more. Thankfully we all know how to break a sombre silence with a wise-crack, a bit of pragmatism (who should we call first?) or an exquisitely timed fart. Although I was 3,000 miles away I felt right there with them. It was the most deep, sad, but profoundly wonderful hour I can remember. The next two weeks of crying and remembering and crying just deepened that feeling.

My dad’s death brought me then, and ever since, to a depth of gratitude and love for him that is profound. I never experienced anything like it during his life. And I don’t say that with regret. Our relationship was what it was, and despite good will there was little ability on either of our parts to make it ‘better’. I wished and tried to be more grateful, more loving, when he was alive. And maybe I made progress. But now it’s a different thing altogether, though it’s a mystery why death would make it so. Now, looking back from this side, his whole life and our whole relationship with me and him and my mom and six sisters … no matter what it was actually like … now there’s just abundant gladness and gratitude and love.

It feels like redemption.

The really profound lesson of his death to me, however, was in the letters, cards and personal messages from friends, family and local villagers. They simply told of the significance my dad had in their lives; their appreciation for him, for his unique character, his presence, his generosity. Relationships, simple as that. People knowing and other people over the course of a life. No ‘money’, no ‘achievements’, no ‘oooh, look at the nice house he left behind’. Just people with people.

Truly, “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions [or in the ecstasy of his personal experiences]” (Luke 12v15), but in the depth and love of his relationships.

[See the introduction for the background to this series and the five dimensions of Relational Proximity.]

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