Jay Rifenbary

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Consumption - The Irresponsibility of Excess

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One factor contributing to a misalignment in today’s social values can be attributed to irresponsible human consumption. We are all labeled consumers, and as shared by economists, the health of our economy is directly related to how, what, where and the amount each of us consume. What does it mean to irresponsibly consume, and what are the ramifications? Moral decay, economic instability, environmental destruction, political corruption, deterioration of family values, and a mutually disrespectful society are all consequences. Each day individuals strive to consume, but to what end? Do you consume to have more stuff, to feel more important, to escape from responsibilities, to ease emotional pain, to find happiness, or get immediate gratification?

Consume is defined as, “to destroy or expend by use; use up, to eat or drink up; devour, to destroy as by decomposing or burning, to spend wastefully, to absorb; engross.” As the British Economist E.F. Schumacher said, “Infinite growth of material consumption in a finite world is an impossibility.” Reflecting on my childhood I can recall having been told that there were those who passed away from consumption. An older medical term used my physicians to avoid the taboo of being specific in regard to describing the wasting away of a body of an individual who had tuberculosis. I can also remember the word being used to describe those who drank, smoked, drugged, or ate themselves to death from the resulting diseases associated with those behaviors. On many social levels consumption has become an obsession related to excess, rather than understanding that there are social responsibilities attached with that behavior. To believe you live to eat, rather than eat healthy and reasonably to live will lead to the health consequences that follow. To believe you need more things to validate your self-worth will lead to the financial and emotional struggles that follow. To abuse the environment and the natural resources associated with it will lead to the environmental and energy challenges that follow.

Responsible consumption aligned with healthy and ethically based core values contributes to the achievement of a well-balanced life. Strong core values suppress the need for excess. It provides you an element of checks and balances in regard to how you live your life, and therefore how you consume. Those values also provide reflection on what is truly important in regard to a fulfilling and ultimately content life.

From an emotional perspective, excess consumption is commonly used as a deterrent from having to take personal responsibility for one’s failures, insecurities and dysfunctions. For some, it can be easier to excessively eat, drink, smoke, abuse drugs, play video games, etc. and become a consumption addict then to cope with the reality of having to be personally responsible. Many use excess consumption as an excuse, and who suffers the most? The people closest to us are always the ones that bear the biggest burden of our irresponsible behaviors. Excess equals self-centeredness, which ultimately equals personal and professional misery. The gratification that comes with being self-centered is short lived, and lacks any long-term depth of character.

How would you evaluate your consumption? Is it excessive, or within the limits of a proper physical and emotionally balanced life? To consume in order to avoid having to deal with a personal or professional issue never solves the issue at hand, nor fills the possible emotional emptiness created by that issue. It is a temporary fix for long-term insecurities. To satiate, “is to supply with anything in excess, so as to disgust, weary.” That is not a behavior anyone would wish to exemplify. As Martin H. Fischer stated, “A machine has value only as it produces more than it consumes – so check your value to the community.” To realize excess is not only detrimental to oneself, but more importantly is at the expense of others, is the key to being more frugal in all you do. To appreciate living without enhances the appreciation to live within. It is never the stuff that ultimately satisfies, but rather a respectful sense of self that brings wholeness to living a meaningful and satisfied life. It will be, and always has been, creation rather than consumption that has most benefitted the world.



The Challenge of Perception

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What type of person do others perceive you as being? Do they perceive you as being kind, compassionate, sensitive, arrogant, competitive, self-centered, empathetic, wise, or aloof, etc? Why are their occasional misunderstandings between self-perception, and another’s perception of you? Certainly what you say, the tone and inflection of your voice, your body language and how you look can be interpreted different ways by different people. There are times I am challenged with my own self-perception of what I convey versus how it is perceived and interpreted by others. Have you ever said to someone, “I did not mean it that way?”

The accuracy of your perception of another, or another’s perception of you, is directly correlated with the level of maturity, life experience, intellect, open-mindedness and emotional stability each person possesses. As the renowned Canadian novelist Robertson Davies stated, “The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.” Misinterpretation of another can be the result of attempting to place your own belief system and way of doing things on another. It is important to remember not everyone is like you. There are many times your own insecurities influence how your perceive others. For example, if someone shares an opinion in regard to the lack of personal responsibility that exists in our society today, and you know you have not been personally responsible in your own life, the more likely you are to interpret that opinion as being offensive rather than an objective opinion. Flipping the coin, if you share an opinion that triggers discomfort or anger in another, their perception of you will be very different as compared to an opinion you share that positively validates their own thoughts and opinions. As the founder of analytical psychology Carl Jung stated, “Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

The more insecure you are with yourself, the more subjective you will be, and the therefore the less accurate in your perception of others. Why? You allow emotion to override objective analysis. The greater the insecurity the more vulnerable you are to an emotional trigger. In addition, the more you protect your insecurities the more defensive you will be to those who threaten that protection. As Hans Margolius stated, “Only in quiet waters things mirror themselves undistorted. Only in a quiet mind is adequate perception of the world.”

One behavior not difficult to perceive accurately is hypocrisy. It is the ultimate destroyer of one’s character. To say one thing and behave differently reveals to all a personally dishonest person. The establishment of a formal set of core values in your life is essential to creating consistency in behavior. The less you know what those core values are, and the less you implement them, the more susceptible you are to being inconsistent and therefore hypocritical. The belief and executing of your core values also provide a greater level of emotional security. As a result, you are more likely to be objective in your perception, rather than emotionally judgmental of another.

In regard to the ability to be accurately perceptive we should all strive to be perspicacious. It is not only my word for you for the day, but a great trait to acquire. Perspicacious is defined as, “having keen mental perception and understanding; discerning; to exhibit perspicacious judgment.” Some synonyms include acute, astute, discerning, penetrating, percipient, sagacious and sharp-witted. Perspicacity is achieved through experience, education and a willingness to be empathetic to those around you. It is also achieved through living a consistently ethical life allowing greater discernment when witnessing less than honorable behavior. Empathy is defined as, “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts or attitudes of another.” To be empathetically perceptive is an ideal opportunity to be non-judgmental of another, and also perspicacious. It does not mean you retreat from the core values you believe in, but it does allow you to think before you react, and temper your response. As Leonardo Da Vinci so simply stated, “All our knowledge is the offspring of our perceptions.” Enjoy the opportunity to practice being perspicacious and becoming more acutely perceptive of the people and the world around you.



Work Ethic - A Forgotten Principle?

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Did I miss the recent memo entitled, “Work Ethic No Longer Necessary”? Have you ever encountered a service experience where you as the customer felt like you were the one providing the service? A situation where you were treated as if you owe the employee for doing business with them? An attitude conveyed as if you have disturbed them because they had to do their job? Is it just me, or does it appear that there is an accelerated increase in laziness, apathy and avoidance of hard work? Work Ethic is defined as, “the principle that hard work is intrinsically virtuous or worthy of reward”.

There is an expectation among many of wanting more out of life without having to work hard for it. This propensity can be attributed to several items including a lack of pride in one’s avocation, a lack of personal motivation, a trend toward entitlement, an all about me attitude, and most importantly a lack of personal responsibility. Are we losing the understanding that a rewarding and fulfilling life, and high personal self-respect, is earned not given? As in most everything in life, the amount of effort you put into an endeavor will determine the level of success achieved. It is certainly simple to understand, yet so difficult for many to execute. The amount of effort to be contributed is an individual decision, and therefore attaches personal responsibility to personal achievement. As Gandhi stated, “Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment. Full effort is full victory.”

On a macro level the most significant contributor to this dangerous trend is the continuous structuring of a Nanny State in our Nation. When more is provided without contributing to the effort to receive it, there is less incentive to work hard for what you want. You become increasingly dependent on the government for your future well-being. The more dependent you become the more control and power someone else has over your own freedom to make independent choices. A democracy requires an intelligent electorate to keep a democracy functioning properly as a “We The People”. Take away the ability for citizens to create their own future, the democracy ceases to flourish, and the few have greater control over the many.

I am not suggesting we do not help those in need. As Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” The system fails when those who have the ability and resources to work hard and achieve decide to let someone else do it for them. A significant character weakness is promulgated as a result, a lack of personal ownership for one’s life. Excuse making becomes rampant, and an understanding that hard work is a requirement for a fulfilling life is lost forever. It then becomes acceptable for many to take advantage of the system, because the system allows it. When life presents challenges do you take the bull by the horns and persevere through it, or call on Nanny to come to the rescue for every need? The latter does nothing to promote a worthwhile individual work ethic, nor a strong society. Those in power only gain more power as a result of the dependency created, and the expected handout to follow. Spoiling our children is no different and is an injustice to them. It sets a precedent, and a belief, that much is expected without having to work for it. As the legendary basketball coach John Wooden stated, “Nothing will work unless you do.”

There are many who have much without having earned it, but few of them take pride in themselves or what they may have, as it is unearned. Actions speak louder than words and when one exemplifies the value of hard work, it not only enhances one of the core values of yourself, but also transcends into the core values of your family and our society. Reflecting on your own life, there have been failures and successes, yet the effort made to succeed, and at times fail, teaches you what it takes to have a fulfilling and self-respected life.



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