Deep Prosperity
Deep Prosperity
#5 Contribution, Compensation, Joy

I came up with a triangle model this morning, that could help us think about the relation between pay, meaning, and flourishing. And provide a contrast between broken-apart living, and as-a-whole living.



I got out of university in 1990, graduating from the University of California at Santa Cruz at this exact moment when we started to learn the effect that climate change that our outputs were having on the earth and struck by this realization for the first time as a lot of us probably were that we could actually upset the very balance of the planet itself, which was… hard to live with. Meanwhile, I saw a world that was suffering in a lot of ways and people doing things they didn’t want to do in order to survive. And this bothered me.

And then I was living in San Francisco with my girlfriend at the time and she was temping. So then I started to temp and then I started to work in these giant office towers. Like the phone book company. I worked in the phone. On some floor in some cubicle in the phone book company, and I would type memos. They had a thing called memos before email. It was kind of weird.

So anyway, I’d be typing these memos and then we were supposed to be there at eight, I think, and leave at five. Or five-thirty take the bus down there, take the bus home. And I was exhausted every night. Exhausted. How do people do this? I really don’t understand how people do this every day, 40 hours a week. Where are you supposed to put your art? Where are you supposed to put your heart? This seems horrible. And I still think it’s horrible. If that’s not what you love to do. It put me on a path that I’ve been on for over 30 years of now of trying to help design ways and help people to create work that they love work that’s meaningful and compensating and contributing all at the same time.

So, I got this model in my head this morning of a triangle. All systems take things in from the environment. They put things out or contribute things to the environment, and then they have the experience of living. So, the three pieces of the triangle are contribution, compensation, and enjoyment.

So we contribute to the world. And we’re compensated for that work. And in that whole process, we enjoy ourselves. That might sound a little simplistic, but that’s the ideal or that’s the model.

And at the time back in 1990, when I got out of college, I was wondering how in God’s name… if I take these 40 hour a week jobs, I won’t have any time to think my thoughts and understand what’s important and know what I really want to do. So I kept temping and that was a good solution for a while.

There were a few little pockets of places where you could talk about things like work sharing or working from home or part-time positions, things like that, but it was very rare. It was “weird”. And now all of that of course has exploded in a hundred different ways, which I think is really awesome. And I’m mostly just interested in how to take all those ways where people are finding prosperity, and infuse that with more of the meaning aspect and the contribution aspect that I think are so essential.

So in 2003, I was sitting under a huge oak tree, at the Occidental Arts And Ecology Center in Occidental, California. I had been working there as a work trader a beautiful experience for a six month period of time. Lovely place to be and contribute and see the entire process of people growing the food, cooking that same food, sharing the food sharing community. It was, it’s a lovely, brilliant place. And it struck me all of a sudden that we are living, for the most part, we have been living in a broken apart world where we have these suburban ranch homes or what have you. And you live in this hermetically sealed container set apart from the other hermetically sealed containers. And then you get into a hermetically sealed metal container to go somewhere else and perform a substance-purchasing function and then drive to another place. Or you drive to your hermetically sealed workspace. And this is still a lot of how it is, and people were taught to separate out their work from their meaning, from their art, from their lives, from their creativity. And I just hate that.

And the truth is, I’ve actually seen us grow gradually, gradually, but I’ve seen us grow into a society that has more options, more appreciation of diversity, different ways to do things and create things and live our lives. And it’s so far from perfect that it’s upsetting, but it’s also wonderful to look at the progress that we’ve made, if I see it that way.

And one of the big ways where I’ve seen that is moving from, either/or, bifurcated thinking to an appreciation of options and possibilities. None of which are necessarily better than the other ones, but all of which represent choices that we could each make and they could be different choices. So, if the bifurcation is communism or capitalism, liberal or conservative, and of course that shuts off thinking and puts us into this bifurcation. And I think another bifurcation is: our traditional images of abundance or prosperity are often about, “I just have a shit ton of money. And that solves all my problems.”

I mean, isn’t that sort of the subtext of a lot of these fantasies? These … what’s the word hagiography, telling of the great hero stories of Elon Musk and whoever else? I think it’s stupid. And speaks to this fantasy of having so much that you don’t have to embody as a human living with the same problems and ideas and I, and situations, and human issues as everyone else. But of course, Elon Musk does have to do that, and his money doesn’t necessarily help him. And we all have to do the work.

And money is very nice. And then people say, “well, yeah, but don’t you want more?” I don’t know. I want enough to fulfill my wishes, my needs, my grounded embodied contribution. Inflow, outflow, and enjoyment. And so that’s the triangle.

And, there’s a really neat thing that’s grown in popularity over the last 30 years, an idea called permaculture, and permaculture was originally designed around agriculture, on growing things and growing things in a systemically holistic way. But it’s also a design method that you can use for anything. And it tries to model the way nature behaves, and take advantage of all the ways in which nature does things so beautifully. And one of the things I really, one of the concepts I really love in permaculture is this idea of function stacking.

So functions stacking means, how many different uses can you make for the same thing at the same time? If you have a beautifully designed system, like in nature, the output from one thing, that’s an excretion from that one thing becomes food for the next thing. And in the same way, I think it’s beautiful to think instead of these broken apart pieces where you get your 20 minutes with your partner here, you get your eight, nine hours over there, all these things are broken apart, which sort of leaves our soul broken apart. How can we weave those together? So how can we have, how can I have work that is simultaneously compensating me well to live my life, to have enjoyment, creativity, to contribute to you in ways that feel good to me?. And then you contribute to me. So the focus is a lot more on the idea of healthy systems that work together and are in balance with each other.

So then, what if you were to think about the wealth you create in your goal of the business that you want as a form of food to feed the living system of this life you want, that then allows you the enjoyment of being a creative person and giving out and giving back and contributing and feeling the joy of contributing? It gives us another way to think about the abundance of enough and the sustenance for our lives.

And to me the vision of a healthy and harmonious system, that’s working well in a balanced way with its other components, as opposed to an out-scaled system that has to dominate the other components in order to survive. So … how could Elon Musk possibly ever spend all that money? It doesn’t make sense in a human health sense, and certainly not as a fantasy to aspire to.

But what if we envision ourselves as this, but what if we envision ourselves as this system, this being taking in nourishment? What if the vision is being someone situated perfectly in balance. In equipoise with the other elements in your space, where there’s a healthy abundance of contributions flowing in, flowing out? To me, it feels more like a dance, and less like a domination. This may sound abstract, or hard to understand or not. But I love this picture of a healthy balance, where we get to do good work that we love, get paid well for it as a piece of getting to do it again. And of course there’s an out-breath, there’s an in-breath, there’s an out-breath again to life. But to me, this feels like a purpose of way to design a world.