I think it was the babies crying that got to me the most. Katrina evacuees poured into the extended-stay Inn in Texas I was writing from at the time. Seeing the helpless ones in their parents' arms and realizing they'd just been wrenched from their homes with little notice—homes that might not be there if they returned—is when Downward Nobility became less of a “coming trend for the Dream Era” phrase to me and more of a practical, necessary reality.
I'd been following the simplification trend already, but it was mostly for self-oriented reasons. The practical realities of the traveling writer's life I was creating didn't make hauling a truckload of belongings around with me from one new city to another fun. So I'd figured out a way to get everything I owned down to two suitcases, a laptop case and about six boxes of belongings.
But I was pretty attached to what was in those six boxes!
Some financial value there. A small art collection that had personal meaning to me. A few top-of-the-line technology gadgets. An expensive air filter. Chef quality pots and pans. A significant resource library.
On top of that, since Hollywood area had been my most recent city of residence with a focus on acting and writing screenplays, my suitcases carried a wardrobe I'd invested a fair amount of money in.
But it was those babies crying in the rooms on either side of me that got to me.
As did the looks on the parents' faces eating near me in the restaurant downstairs.
My six boxes and two suitcases started seeming like a lot in comparison to people having lost everything with little to no warning. In comparison to having to start over with nothing. To having to leave a beautiful community-oriented place full of diversity and fun like the city of New Orleans without much hope of return.
Downward Nobility Comes to Life
That's when the projected Downward Nobility trend from the '97 Futurist magazine article I'd held onto all those years came to life for me and edged its way up my priorities.
I went a little overboard. Kept my laptop, but picked up a new substitute wardrobe from Goodwill and gave away my nicer one and the rest of my belongings to my new neighbors.
It was an awkward and clumsy beginning, and maybe even a little extreme. Looking back I'm not sure my Hollywood acting days wardrobe did anyone else much good, for example, given the climate and culture differences. And the latest tech gadgets were probably a poor in-the-moment substitute for food and housing.
But it was a start.
Over time, I came up with more practical and balanced guidelines for going into this time in history when we literally have all we need to end extreme poverty worldwide in our lifetimes--if we each do our part.
- Build Your Budget Around Your Top Strengths
One of the concepts in the article where I'd first encountered the Downward Nobility phrase was that in this coming era, people will begin to overspend in one or two categories needed to be their personal best and protect their top strengths, and then dramatically sacrifice in all other budget areas for the good of the whole.
It makes a lot of sense. We've seen times in history when people have tried either “Downward” or “Nobility” and neither has been particularly effective. But in this strategy, you still take care of yourself--”fasten your own oxygen mask first”--and honor the sustainability of the gifts you have to give the world.
You just don't stop there. You keep looking for ways to give out of that protected area and keep asking the hard questions like, “Do I really need a house this big, or am I doing it because of some American Dream I think I'm supposed to fit into? Do I need all these vehicles—or even one of them? Technology—toys or key tools? Wardrobe? Eating out? Places my entertainment spending is going?” What could make one person more effective in giving to the Whole by spending in those areas could be unnecessary for another. The New Nobility—the downward focused one—asks those kinds of highly individualized questions.
- Establish Your Enoughness Point
One of my favorite people to honor came up with that great Downward Nobility phrase! Journalist Calvin Trillin's wife—the subject of the book About Alice and a writer herself—felt each of us should set a lifestyle limit and define in advance what is our Enough! point and plan to give everything above that away.
A non-smoking victim of lung cancer from second-hand smoke throughout her childhood, she is one of those people whose legacy I'd like to promote and spread as part of my own. She died of cancer much too young in NYC on the exact day when so many others died there from another tragic and perhaps more preventable than we like to admit event: 9-11-1. In honor of her memory and theirs I'd love to see her term "Enoughness" become a powerful catch phrase for this time in history!
How to practice this "Enoughness" concept?
- Take from the Whole only what you need to be your personal best.
- Use everything you have.
- Give the rest away.
- Maximize Your Earning Potential
Finally, a sometimes neglected aspect of giving to the Whole is proactively developing ourselves and our earning potential. I spent several years after Katrina with a highly simplified lifestyle. I wasn't spending even a fraction of what I had been back in my pre 9-11 years when the money was flowing in fast and free. But I also wasn't making even a fraction of what I had been! So that's not doing the Whole much good either as I could barely cover my own living expenses.
It's self-actualization time in history. Many now have the other layers of Maslow's pyramid of needs in place. Time for those of us who've been given so much and can go all the way to the top of that to do so! And then go Downward in our Nobility for the good of the Whole.
Dan Miller, influenced somewhat by one of our current financial voices Dave Ramsey, has written a great book on moving more actively toward work that we love and that can help us each do our part.
No one who's awake and aware at this time in history is going to expect of any one of us to make more of ourselves than we're capable of. But the key is knowing you've done everything you can to make what you can. Heal from the past, find your optimum work, and then advance in your career or support roles to others (as moms, caregivers, etc.) to the degree where you're able to be as much of a resource for the Whole as possible.
I wasn't looking to join with the new nobility for this time—the Downward one. It just sort of happened. It took a Hurricane and babies crying and parents holding onto what hope they could to wake me up and call me to radical action.
That impulse of the moment gave me my first taste of what could happen if we all exposed ourselves regularly to the needs around us to such a degree that we couldn't walk away without asking ourselves some new questions. And just maybe taking a little radical action.
Or at least implementing a few practical steps like these.
And if you're already there, I'd love to hear the stories!
- Additional inspiration from Compassion International's blog: http://tinyurl.com/4nfg976
- Ideas on how to handle the "Social Cause" burnout: 3 Predictions for Social Good in 2011 http://on.mash.to/hcvO35