Friday, September 30, 2011

Perspective and Gas Prices

A couple of days ago the AP published an article on lower gas prices.  The price has dropped significantly since summer and some people were amazed and thrilled to find prices below $3 a gallon.  If things go well some parts of the country could see prices as low as $2.50 in the near future (or not).

What does this have to do with perspective?  To me it’s a reverse example.  Here we have people very happy with prices below $3 and possibly headed toward $2.50, whereas not too long ago we were hearing cries of pain and anguish at prices as high as $2.50, but compared to $4.00 it seems like a bargain.  People tend to have short memories and get used to things as they are, reacting with some discomfort to changes.  In this example it is joy rather than discomfort, but because we have experienced such economic and technological growth and improvements throughout our lives, our expectations are set and any loss or reduction causes discomfort.

Perspective should remind us that how things are today is not the way they always were.  Gas was not always three or four dollars a gallon, but televisions were not always digital, with 50-inch screens, surround sound, 200 channels, or even in color (and we had to get out of our chair to change the channels).  Less than one hundred years ago most Americans had to live without radios, a second car, a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, in-door plumbing, Social Security or any expected retirement, Medicare or any health insurance.  More recently people got along fine without home computers, dishwashers, (4G) cell phones, moon roofs, garage door openers and home air conditioning.  But it’s easy to take these things for granted and feel we could not live without them, when, in fact, people lived for many centuries without them.  It’s easy to understand how Greek citizens can march in protest over loss of benefits while their country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy.

Perspective is about values, values that keep our wants from morphing into needs, values that remind us what is vital vs what we can really live without.  It’s nice to see the price of gas turn around, but it should also remind us to be grateful for what we have and to consult our core values when we decide how to spend the extra cash.  Martin Luther King, Jr. put it very bluntly in his 1964 lecture at the Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies:  “Yet, in spite of these spectacular strides in science and technology, and still unlimited ones to come, something basic is missing. There is a sort of poverty of the spirit which stands in glaring contrast to our scientific and technological abundance. The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually.”  I think he was talking, in part, about perspective and wonder if we have been progressing or declining since then.

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