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Monday, June 20, 2011

East meets West… how Eastern Philosophy can help us solve Western issues.

Most people that know me know that I have studied martial arts for more than half my life. Part of this study has included some very basic Eastern medicine philosophy. Within this basic study, I picked up a major concept that seems to elude much of our Western culture.

(Fig. 1)

The concept is illustrated with the Five Elements chart above. For those interested, these can be explained in some details on the TCMBASICS.COM website (introduction, application of, and basic description the 5-elements).
The general Idea is that parts of our world can all be classified into one of the 5-elements (Water, Wood, Fire, Earth, and Metal – Fig. 1) Just as the world around us can be segmented into these elements so can the parts of our body (organs) , emotions, colors, seasons and more. (See Fig. 2 classification chart below)

(Fig. 2)

My point isn’t to teach the eastern medicine, but to discuss the concept of cause and effect in an effort to trouble shoot problems we face. In fig. 1, you can see the layout of the five elements. If you follow the outer arrows, you see that Wood creates Fire (FUEL), Fire creates Earth (Ash), Earth creates Metal (Minerals), Metal creates Water (Condensation), and Water creates Wood (Growth). If you follow the inner arrows, Wood destroys Earth (Containment) , Earth destroys Water (Absorption), Water destroys Fire (Extinguish), Fire destroys Metal (Melts), Metal destroys Wood (Cutting).

Though this may be confusing on first glance, the general idea is that a if you have a problem with a Metal Characteristic, you can solve it by looking at the Earth, Fire and Wood elements and ensure that everything is in harmony, often you will find something out of whack.
The Western culture tend to attacks a problem, but that’s not always the cause. For instance if we have a back ache, we often take muscle relaxers or visit a chiropractor or a masseuse. But many times a back issue is caused be improper support from our shoes, bad posture or perhaps from extra weight. If we simply address the pain (problem) and not the cause we may never recover.

I could give many examples, but I’m sure you get the point.

Eastern philosophy looks at things in more of a cause and effect basis. This allows them to try to treat the “Cause” instead of treating the “Symptom” in an effort to get the body and nature into “harmony”.

These may seem simple examples but this idea goes much deeper. Let take one social issue and see what we get.

High Unemployment:
- People out of work and not enough jobs available.

Causes – Bad Economic Climate, High Taxes, High Overhead/Cost of Business, etc.

The current attack on unemployment is focused on Job Creation. Seems like a good place to start on the surface, but how do we really do this? If job creation was as simple as deciding we need more jobs, we would be in the mess we are in, right? The stimulus plans seemed to focus on infrastructure improvements. Give states money and then they can pave the way to an better job market (pun intended). What happens when the money runs out? Those same people will be out of work a year or two later. Where does the money come from in the mean time? In a down economy, more out of work people means less tax revenue. Less tax revenue means less to go around. So how can we spend more without going into debt? There are only two answers I can think of; one is that we don’t, we simple just add to our national and state debts; second is that we can raise taxes on those that still have a job or even better on businesses.

Big greedy business is a great place to look when closing budget gaps. After all businesses are not owned by people right? They don’t have the potential to create jobs… do they? They don’t already employ those who are still in work do they? Ok so there are many people in the government sector that have jobs too, so not all jobs are created by private business. The difference is that private industry creates jobs after creating revenue to support the jobs and then grow to create more jobs. Government expansion means increased taxes to sustain increase jobs and other spending, which comes from you and me.

So how do we create jobs, we can’t simply attack the symptom of no jobs. That seems to drive us to a vicious cycle. But we can create a more stable and predictable business environment. Lower taxes and other inflated expenses (Gas Prices are a nice place to start) and a business might also have more cash to sustain additional employees. The problem isn’t always that we do not have enough work at a company; it is often the ability to sustain the employment. No decent employer wants to lay people off, so if they don’t see long term sustainability/stability they may not hire. If overall costs of living decrease, then employees can afford to work for less which brings down overhead and someone else’s costs of living. I know no one wants to work for less, but I don’t mean taking pay cuts, I am talking about not “NEEDING” enough money to sustain exorbitant expenses like gas prices and health insurance.

Some industries are more directly affected by this with increased shipping expenses. Others are indirectly affected by industries passing these increased costs onto its customers.

A couple weeks ago our blog talked about how “Green Living” just makes sense from a household budget point of view. If you learn to live smarter and save where you can, you keep more money. If you don’t have money stresses, you don’t need to don’t need to demand more from your employer (or from your business if you own one). This helps the company to have better economic sustainability over time and you can afford to work there. This can be done at any income level too, everyone can benefit from keeping more of what you make.

So the symptom we see is unemployment, the short term band-aid is creating temporary jobs so it looks like employment is happening. Other short term fixes were tax rebates for employers who hired new employees. This helps lighten the overhead on a new employee, but it’s not a permanent fix. Another short term fix is throwing money at states for infrastructure work. Though every state has plenty of work like this to go around, any benefit is short term because soon either the project finishes or the money runs out. Now we just delayed the inevitable and need to lay off workers again.

We can look at many issues we face today with a cause and effect mentality. Addressing a symptom isn’t always solving the problem because the root cause is often not addressed. My goal here wasn’t to solve unemployment but to explain the complexities of our symbiotic society and how addressing one issue incorrectly can affect many others in unseen ways.

What are your thoughts on the symptom/cause problem solving process? How about unemployment or other issues we face today? If you have a suggestion for a blog that you want us to address, let us know.

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