Living near Oakland, California we’ve experienced some of the most intense Occupy protests in the country. A little more than a week ago, there was yet again a fairly violent clash with the Oakland police. Of course there were interviews with the protesters and after listening to one particular interview, I was struck by the fact that the movement here seems to have morphed from a focus on the wealthiest 1% to a more general dislike of capitalism as a whole.
Is capitalism bad? Do the 1% (whoever they are — there doesn’t seem to be an agreed upon definition on the web — I’ll assume it’s a belief that 1% of our country has the majority of the wealth) really care nothing about the rest of us or our country or the world for that matter?
Lots of questions, lots of viewpoints on what is the best system — capitalism — socialism — communism — or some other “ism.” So let me offer another perspective:
Last week I had an opportunity to interact with a group of people who were actually part of the 1%. I was assisting with a workshop on building leadership presence and conscious embodiment for a group of about 150 people at their bi-annual conference. These people had two things in common. First, they all have significant wealth (old money, new money, you name it). Most of them in fact have their own foundations which give away hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to various causes.
The second thing they had in common was a shared a passion for making significant positive change at a global level. This includes climate change, the environment and a whole range of important social issues. The attendees are so passionate, that they have created an umbrella foundation where they could come together to play even a bigger game in the world. In respect for their privacy, I’ll just say that many of the ideas that have come from this group have become other foundations, investor groups, non-profits and even consumer products that you have likely interacted with at some point.
What I experienced was a group of people that I perceived as truly caring and driven to make a difference. There was palpable angst at the challenge of using their wealth, connections and time for positive change while fighting what they perceived as an uphill battle against multibillion dollar, global corporations. Of course this was why we were asked to present. To help them build practices that would enable them to advocate for the changes they wanted to see without fueling it with anger and aggression. And also how to maintain a positive attitude and stay focused on the big picture and not get discouraged.
While we can argue that some of the people in that room may have received their wealth as a result of businesses that at some point did not do the best for our society, the important thing to me was that they were passionate about moving forward in a positive way. You can always change the direction of the boat to move towards a more enlightened destination.
Back to the rest of the us in the 99%
We can do the same and have our own intention for a better world. It’s that you continue to move forward in what’s important for you, your families, your co-workers and your community. It’s not about conflict and aggression. And yet it’s not any less soft than the bow of a boat, cutting through the waves.
I wonder where we are headed?