Archive for August, 2006

Kindness & Competitiveness

Another contradiction – It is just too tough to be competitive and kind – both at the same time.

From David Copperfield –

I believe in kindness.
But it’s hard to be kind. We’re not trained for it. Kindness is for sissies; we learn that early. “Nice guys finish last.” If they even get invited to the race. Kindness is taken for weakness, rube-ishness, stupidity. No one seems to respect the kind. They respect the killer. We’re taught to value competitiveness, strength, cunning, Darwin.
I work in the entertainment business, where kindness just never seems to be “in.” It’s not macho. It doesn’t sell tickets. In the movies, the hero never kills the bad guy with kindness. But I believe Economics 101 is right. The value of a thing is determined by its scarcity. Which makes kindness spiritual gold.
I am writing these words a few weeks after my father’s death. […]
For my father, being kind was natural. He had a gift for it. I have to really work at it. I love competing and winning, conquest — not words you usually associate with kindness.
As I became successful — famous, even — my father wasn’t jealous. He basked in it. He and my mom came with me everywhere I toured. I’d always stop and introduce him to the audience, and he’d stand and bow. Afterwards, he’d sign autographs. I knew he loved getting the attention.
Only recently did I understand that he loved giving attention as well. He loved the chance to be kind to the thousands of people who came up to him. He drew strength and vitality from that chance to be nice. The chance to learn that gift was, more than anything, his legacy to me. He showed me that kindness doesn’t have to be dramatic. It can be very small. It’s something that’s not expected and that’s offered absolutely gratis, no strings — like an act of friendship. Now, the memories that hold the most peace for me are of kindness, of my dad offering it to strangers.
With my dad’s passing, I’ve resolved to make life more about those moments. My dad taught me that what you do counts. For me, that has to be about being kind, despite the odds. I believe in kindness, plain and simple.
— David Copperfield

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Canadian Index of Happiness

A new Canadian index will gauge how people are faring overall, not just how much they’re spending.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing will be far more accurate than its economic cousin, the gross domestic product, says Roy Romanow, who was in Toronto last week to present it at the United Way of Canada conference. “(The GDP) tells us how much total income we are producing, but tells us nothing about how that income is distributed,” said Romanow, the former Saskatchewan premier who chaired the 2002 commission into medicare. The index has been five years in the making, and some of its first quarterly figures are due to be published in the fall.

“When the single most influential national lens that we use to measure our progress and wellbeing as a country is confined to a narrow set of economic indicators, it sends inaccurate and even dangerous signals to policy makers.” The gross domestic product is driven skyward when bad things happen and money is spent to fix the problems, Romanow said. Problems like the Quebec ice storm, traffic accidents, street crime, deforestation. But the Canadian Index of Wellbeing is driven down by negative things like crime, poor health and unaffordable tuition.

The index takes its cue from countries like the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, where the government measures the level of satisfaction among its populace and attempts to shape public policy to better those levels. In Canada, a national working group of about 20 organizations was convened with funding from the Atkinson Charitable Foundation. “We, along with others, had been doing this work in a very scattered way,” said Ron Colman, executive director of Genuine Progress Index Atlantic, a non-profit organization that had been developing a wellbeing index for Nova Scotia. “What the Atkinson foundation did is bring everybody together.” Measuring the level of life satisfaction among the people of a country is certainly not confined to Bhutan, although it was there that the king declared in 1972 that “the Gross National Happiness is more important than GrossNational Product.”

New Zealand also produces national reports on the wellbeing of its citizens, which are often taken into account by the government in making decisions.

Colman says the Canadian group is learning from the models of New Zealand and Bhutan how to best ensure the government, which has no real connection to the wellbeing index, acts on what the data indicate Canadians are experiencing.

“We’re learning how to push this further along on the public policy agenda,” he said. “But they are also learning from us that there is strength in having data come from an independent source.”

Researchers across the globe have been attempting for decades to find a formula that objectively measures how satisfied people are with their lives, without much concrete success.

Dutch professor Ruut Veenhoven, a highly regarded researcher in positive psychology – the study of what makes us happy and why – has for 20 years been working on the World Database of Happiness. He has found that, although the most prosperous nations tend to score higher than the poorest ones, there are exceptions. El Salvador for instance ranks 7 2 out of 10 the same as Great Britain Salvador, for instance, ranks 7.2 out of 10, the same as Great Britain.

Veenhoven’s research was largely based on people’s own judgments of how satisfied they are with their lives. The Canadian Index of Wellbeing will be calculated based on data gathered by about 20 researchers, from Statistics Canada, Environment Canada and researchers from several universities.

While it’s unavoidable some self-reported data will be used, researchers are planning to take into account harder numbers, such as the costs of education and of everyday essentials.

“This is not a feel-good type of self-survey,” said Charles Pascal, executive director of the Atkinson foundation. “This is using data to measure, in a very tangible way, the things that matter to Canadians.”

The working group will measure areas such as living standards, health and welfare and levels of political engagement.

Said Dr. Robert McMurtry, a London physician who also serves on the Health Council of Canada: “I can remember the days when you didn’t have so many people who couldn’t afford higher education, when you felt a lot safer walking the streets at night and when pollution wasn’t such a problem. I’d like to see us have a standard by which we can measure whether these things – which are so important to us – are going upwards or downwards.”

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