He who seeketh, findeth

November 3, 2007

Accounting for Heaven and Earth

Sometimes I have “insights” that are not fully formed, but I just want to write them down so that I don’t forget the ‘idea’. This is one of those times. I am just saying that what I am about to say may not make sense, not just because the reader has a different point of view, but because I have not clearly communicated my thoughts and impressions. Caveat lector!

I rarely think of my work as being related to spirituality. However, the past couple of days, several things have happened that have made me review or revisit how I look at Accounting. For example, there are times when a report or statement is one Cent off, and I cannot go forward without finding where that one Cent belongs. It is easy to “fix” things, but it cannot and should not be done, because: first, it is wrong, second, it just doesn’t work at times. For example, if you are paying $3 million and the report you printed out says you are paying $2,999,999.99, one may think that you can just give one of the payees 1 Cent. No, not really? If you overpay one of the people, they will come back and ask (may be), but surely if you underpay somebody, you might as well not do it in the first place. What if you narrow it down to a particular person? You see to whom the 1 cent needs to go, do you just throw it in there, on her account? Not really, it may belong to a particular invoice, or period (month, quarter, or year)… Things like this make accounting hell sometimes. You cannot check off something as okay (it foots) when it does not. You can bet on it that it will come back to bite you; well, most of the time. Most of the “checks and balances” that you find in life, have their source in Accounting. For example, if you make $1 million during the year, and you make this money from work, gifts, and businesses, you are expected to report that you made $1m to the tax authority. You may wonder, how would they know if you told them that you made only $0.9m? Well, for starters, your employer tells them how much they paid you. Second, the gift giver is supposed to report how much he has disposed of in gifts. Third, the people that made payments to you need to have backup for the claimed expenses, so there will be receipts with your tax id on it showing money flowing to you. Fourth, if you deposited any money in an interest-earning account, the bank has to report the interest that they paid you, and of course, the money you deposited will show. Last but not least, you cannot spend what you don’t have. By looking at your statements, the tax man can have a good idea of how much income you made. Of course, my list is not exhaustive, but it gives you an idea of how, given time, the tax man can figure out how much you made (or spent).

Accounting has another basic side to it, which may or may not be looked at as “checks and balances”, the double-entry system. For every transaction, there is a debit and credit to it. A simple example would be if you bought a one dollar pen for your business. This is an expense. Your cash would go down $1 (credit your books), your supplies (expense) would go up $1 (debit your books). At the end of the day, your debits and expenses should match.

One last point that I need to bring up, is budgets. It is hard to imagine a functioning business that does not have an accounting budget. This just shows you what you expect to make or spend for the year. The fun is in the details. But as the year goes, you periodically look at items in the budget and see if you are where you thought you would be at a certain point in time. If something is so below/over-budget, you investigate it before the year ends (well, usually).

Well, enough accounting. So I thought about that and I wondered if the principles of accounting are applicable to other non-monetary issues. For example, if somebody hurt my feelings, what would be the equivalent in accounting? If I sinned, what happens in Heaven that is similar to accounting? So here is what I thought of as a possibility.

Assume that we are dealing with Cash, and the normal (or good) balance is a debit. Let’s also assume that good acts are debits. Then if you help somebody out and you feel good and the other person is appreciative of your actions, and Heaven is also rejoicing, then:

Debits: your good account in your heart; the recipient’s view of you; your good accts book in Heaven.

Credits: effort needed to do the good act; the recipient “pay it forward” account; your sin book in Heaven(?).

Similarly, if you hurt somebody’s feelings intentionally for no good reason, you can make the necessary entries.

At the end of the day, how you feel, the financial health of the organization, you and your fellow men, will depend on how accurate and how good your books are. Just like in accounting for businesses, the accounting for both Heaven and Earth, doesn’t lie.

The closest I could come to relating the accounting budget to life in Heaven and on Earth, had to do with expectations and potential. I think that’s what an accounting budget does, it sets expectations for performance with the conviction or commitment that the organization has potential to live up to those expectations, whether it is to cut costs or increase revenues or both. So what are our expectations and potential. On the expectations side: we are expected to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we are expected to work as if we are doing it unto the Lord, we are expected to discover what we are good at and devote it to the betterment of ourselves and of the human race, we are expected to discover our potential… It is not an exhaustive list. I presume that God and our fellow men, from their exposure and intimate knowledge of us, have a good idea of what we can do/be. That being the case, I do not think it is outrageous to think that each one of us has a budget of good works that we are expected to perform.

What if, in God’s budget, He saw that for the world to be a good place to live, I would have to help one person every day or every week. I would also have to give 20% of my income to my church, etc. If I help twice that number, and give less to the church, I am sure it may throw off the budget, but I cannot say by how much. It is not for me to know what the budget is. All I can do is my best. Just like at a company, the presidential team may have the budget, which the man in the warehouse does not know of. The man in the warehouse just has to do his best; make the best nuts and bolts for himself and the company.

If men can plan things with extraordinary precision, be it accountants, rocket scientists or Chess players, why would God do any less? Why wouldn’t God have a plan or budget for enough food or medication for everybody? Why wouldn’t God have enough leaders and doctors and followers and … for the world to function properly? I believe God has it all properly budgeted. It is just that we don’t take time to figure out what’s important and how best to allocate and manage the resources that we are. We are self-managing resources in God’s budget.

September 15, 2007

Thankful for life when you have nothing…

Filed under: Happiness,Meditation,Reason for Breathing,Thanksgiving,World Issues — Steve (Chessiq) @ 10:20 am

Here is a classic in my opinion. It reminds me that I can still be thankful even when I seem not to have anything to be thankful for.

Here is one more Nina Simone song/video that I really like.

August 12, 2007

Feed the Hungry, Save Forests, Rescue Animals, Save the Earth… with a few clicks! (Doable in less than 2 minutes)

Filed under: Reason for Breathing,Thoughts and Reflections,World Issues — Steve (Chessiq) @ 1:07 am

This is a guest-post from CatDiva, one of my best friends. She has a clever way to contribute to things that we (should) care about: The Hungry, Rain Forest, Lost Animals, The Earth… You just have to click to a few websites, make a few clicks, and then the sponsors will donate towards the causes that the websites promote. Below is what she does. You can do it too! It takes less than 2 minutes!

Let’s not forget something we can all do every day that doesn’t cost us a cent. Go to thehungersite.com everyday and click so that a sponsor will donate money for food on your behalf. I do this every day and then: when the thank you page for the hungersite comes up I scroll down and click on the link to the Animal Rescue site, when the thank you page for that site comes up, I click on the link to the Literacy site. After clicking on that one, when the thank you page comes up, I click on the Child Health site link, then on to the Breast Cancer site and I always save the rainforest site for last because when the thank you page for that comes up I can scroll all the way to the bottom and on the right is a link to ecologyfund.com where I can click to donate to five more causes and on the last thank you page from those I click on the red link to Wildglobe.com where you can click to save more rain forests.

If you have ideas, suggestions, etc on how we can save/contribute towards things we care about, please drop a comment. Thanks in advance!

ARE YOU BLACK OR WHITE? A Chess Perspective On Race And Racism

Filed under: Meditation,Reason for Breathing,Thoughts and Reflections,World Issues — Steve (Chessiq) @ 12:42 am

It is not uncommon for non-Caucasian Chess players to say something like: “I am white”, “I was white and I lost!” or for Caucasian or non-African chess players to utter something like: “I am black”, “I was black and I won”. When we, Chess players, say it, we do not think about race. We are talking about the color of the Chess pieces that you play during a game.
In Chess, Black is considered to start off with a disadvantage since the player with the white pieces makes the first move.
In a way, White, (the player with the white pieces), determines how the game goes. If she is a good player, she usually has
the initiative (similar to having “the say” on how things go on the chess board). However, having the white pieces does not necessarily mean that you are going to win the game. In some aspects, it is a negative thing because of the pressure; it is assumed that since you are White, then you have to win the game. Black has ways to play the game such that the advantages of White’s first move are minimized or neutralized. Black usually hopes for equality. Of course, after equalizing, Black may try to play for a win. There are tons of games where Black has outplayed White. Unlike in Chess, where one person’s gain is another’s loss, life does not necessarily work that way; two people of different races can live together, work as a team, and both come out as winners. Thinking about the “color of the pieces” has made me address a couple of issues regarding race for both from the “victim” or the “oppressed” and the “aggressor” or “offender”.

WHAT CAN THE OPPRESSED DO TO IMPROVE THEIR WAY OF LIFE?
1. You have to do your best all the time or most of the time. You are playing the black pieces. You are not the one who gets the first move, compliment, raise, or whatever it is that is advantageous. Before the first move is made, people have assumed that you are going to lose the game or at best come out with a draw. You cannot just wish that they change their assumptions. In a way, you are supposed to prove that being black, or gray, or whatever pieces you have, deserve a chance, a second look, that you have abilities on the Chess board called Life.
2. You have to have a greater goal than just playing this one game of Chess. I have talked about having goals before. (Click here for one of the articles.) When your goal is beyond just going to work or paying the bills or surviving, you are more motivated to overcome whatever hurdles come your way. For example, you can go to a tournament with the goal of winning the tournament. This goal does not give you much room to drop points by drawing or losing as Black. Other people have gone to places just to change the culture. Or to let the people know that being Black does not mean you are carrying a gun or you are lazy or … it just means that God wanted a Black or Latino or mixed or whatever image of His face on earth. Thus, you do your best to accomplish your big goal; one of your missions in life.
3. You rise above the color of the pieces you are playing. Chess teaches you to forget everything else and focus on what is happening on the chess board once the game starts. Each time, you try to make your best move and improve your position. If you lose a pawn or a piece, you still play your best to the end. In life, people will do all sorts of things, say all sorts of things, but you have to rise above it all and play your best move, each time. (It sounds pretty hard, and it is, but you if can do it consciously for 32 months, it will become a habit. You will not have to think about it.)
4. Stay out of trouble. Very few players sacrifice pawns or pieces when playing Black. There is a lesson from Chess! If things do not seem to go your way right from the start, the least you can do is stay out of trouble. Everyone needs to meditate what that “trouble” is. Just to give some example, it can be trouble with the law, debt, anger, self-esteem, education, or other (life-)skills. What you are trying to do is avoid loss of control of your life. If you are arrested, you give up your life to whoever runs the system. If you are too angry you give up control to whoever is making you angry. It is no longer just an initiative; you are talking several initiatives or tempi. (Sorry, that is too much Chess, but I could not find a better way to put it.)
5. Count your blessings. When I play Black, every once in a while I stop and re-evaluate my position to see whether I have met my expectations “so far”. Usually, I feel better because I have not been swept off the board by White! I look at ways to improve my position if it is at all possible. I think in life you have to do the same thing. If you want to really see how well-off you are, you can consider how it would have been 200 years ago or may be 35 years ago. Where would you be? Or What if you were born in a different country where there is no hope for bettering yourself? What if in addition to the current disadvantage, you also had … (you can fill in the blank – whatever would make your life horrible!) The point is to make yourself realize that you may have it bad, but other people have it worse. Hopefully, the appreciation of your position will make you think about ways to maintain or improve it.
6. Focus on the good people. This is similar to 5. above, but the difference is that here I am referring to people, specifically. There are people that, regardless of what you do, they will do their best to bring you down. There are also nice people out there; people who are just nice, regardless of who you are or what you have done. I find that focusing your attention on the good people does help. You avoid the negativity, and at the same time you learn the art of being nice to people regardless of who they are, or what their skin color is.
7. Accept that you cannot change the world. In Chess, there will always be people who hate playing Black, who are scared of playing Black, or who think that because you are playing White, you win, regardless of the results/proof to the contrary. What can you do about these people? Not much. After you have done your best, there is nothing more to do. So the same goes for life. You cannot preach to people that being this color is good or bad if they firmly believe otherwise. They may have reason to. It is their “prerogative”. Once you accept people regardless of their belief systems or how they treat you, you experience a sense of relief. You no longer carry the burden of proof. You know the truth and that’s what sets you free.
8. Know people at a deeper level. At first, I thought that I should keep this for my section on the “oppressor”, but I saw that this also applies to the “oppressed”. When you know somebody beyond the “professional” interaction, you understand his biases, prejudices or whatever it is better. You can explain some of the behavior. Sometimes it is not personal. It is not directed at you. In addition, when you know a person deep enough, you do not judge him by what is showing on the surface. You have inside information; more information with which to make your decision.
9. Learn new things, skills, etc about the other group. In Chess, it does not matter whether the piece is Black or White, it moves the same way. All Bishops move diagonally, all Knights move the L way. So when you are playing Chess as Black, you do the same things that White does: opening for your pieces, castling to protect your King, etc. These improve your chances of enjoying the game and hopefully winning. In life, because of social status and other issues, people do not have experiences of the other side. By learning knew skills, cultures, languages, etc, you increase your chances of understanding what the other side is doing. You become more competent dealing with the other side. You minimize misconceptions and prejudices born of ignorance.
10. Know and live your rights. There is nothing worse than being entitled to fair treatment and not getting it. I cannot imagine a Chess player with the Black pieces letting white make 2 consecutive moves before he makes his move(s)! If Chess players cannot let it happen, why should you? Knowing your rights does not only mean that you know what you should/can get, but you also know what you should not expect to get.
I am sure there is a lot of literature out there dealing with issues of race and racism. I guess a bonus point is: KNOW AS MUCH AS YOU CAN ABOUT RACE ISSUES. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. Armed with knowledge and social intelligence, you should be able to navigate the race waters successfully.

WHAT CAN AN OPPRESSOR DO TO IMPROVE THEIR OWN LIFE?
Why do people oppress other people? This is the question that the oppressor needs to answer on his own. He knows best why he thinks he is superior, why people who are different from him are inferior, why he has to act like the game is won before any pieces have been moved. Once this question is answered, he will have to look at it and see if it is something that he needs to continue doing for the rest of his life, or he can effect changes that will benefit people different from him that he comes in contact with.
A few suggestions:
1. Give people a chance to prove themselves. Sometimes that is all it takes for you to change your mind. If you win against Black all the time, all it takes is several games where the guy playing Black is very good and you see it over the board, that being Black is not a handicap, like you once believed.
2. Forget the colors of the pieces; just play your best move! In Chess, that is what you do. You know you are White. You think about if for a while, probably before the game starts, but once the game is going, you “forget” about the colors of the pieces. You forget that you made the “first move” because you are White. Similarly, when you forget about the skin color, and you let the people be themselves you achieve several things. First, you let the people be themselves, and usually, people do their best when they are not stressed out about having to do this extra work just because they are different. They just do the job, whether it is programming, designing, preparing for a case, presenting a case, sweeping, or learning new things. Second, the people feel accepted for who they are. I cannot explain how powerful this is. It is powerful in love, in religion, and I believe it is powerful in other areas, including work.
3. Know people at a deeper level. Once you know a person deeply, you never treat them the same. It is the reason why most people treat their family members differently from non-family member, for better or for worse. This is just because you know your family well. Hopefully, you know and remember good things! It is the same for people of a different color. If you know that they had a troubled background or they grew up poor, or they didn’t go to school til they will 10 years old, or that they have a family member who is not doing well, or … you change the way you look at them. This is called a paradigm shift. You no longer label them slow, angry, unteachable, or ‘Black’ – whatever that means to you. Their actions make sense. Instead of treating the symptom, if any, you treat the source. You see how you can help so that both of you benefit in the end.
4. Accept that you cannot change the world. You cannot expect too much when it comes to social issues as they are very complicated. All you can do is your best, one person at a time, one situation at a time. Sometimes it will not work out, but you cannot take it personally. After you have done your best, there is nothing more to do. You play your best move or game all over again. After all, Life is a game of Chess.
5. Know your rights and duties. Similar to the “oppressed”, this will help you know if you are doing the bare minimum or you are being taken advantage of. Hopefully, you will exceed the expectations, while making sure that people are not taking advantage of you by playing the race trump card.

BONUS POINT: Again, knowledge is power. Knowledge plus social intelligence should help you navigate the race waters successfully.

THE POWER OF PRAYER
When I played Chess, there were times when my knowledge and skill could not get me into or out of certain positions. Guess what I did? I PRAYED! I have always had so much faith in God. Similarly, here, I would suggest that before you make a move on all that is written here and elsewhere, you pray about it, and as you make your moves, you pray about it, and whether you are successful in effecting positive changes in the racial dynamics, you pray again. I believe that we are all created in the image of God. As such our treatment of each other should reflect the Creator’s Character. Need I say more?

Any comments, experiences, ideas and suggestions regarding race issues will be greatly appreciated.

How To Send Excess Food To The Poor At No Extra Cost

Filed under: Reason for Breathing,Thoughts and Reflections,World Issues — Steve (Chessiq) @ 12:38 am

Two Major Reasons For Not Sending Food To The Poor
For some reason it appears that even nature favors the rich. The rich or developed countries do not suffer famine, droughts, epidemics, etc at the rate that the poor and underdeveloped countries do. I will not give reasons for that. However, I will try to address one of the major issues that affect the citizens of the rich and the poor countries: Food. The poor are dying of hunger while the rich are throwing away food. I remember hearing that in America (USA) people eat half of their food and toss the remainder away without thinking twice about it. Of course, it is not everybody who does that. People in the developed world see pictures (print and television) of big Americans, and what can one surmise? They eat too much. Not always true. I remember years ago, some of my friends were wondering why people and restaurants with excess food do not ship it to the poor in underdeveloped countries. Two major reasons were offered. First, it is so expensive to fly/transport things over there. “Those people are a world away”. Not really a world away! The second reason is that the food would not make it there in good time. It would be bad before it got there.

An idea:
I was looking at a Chess game the other day and I saw a backward pawn. I saw an opposing knight rows away. Usually when a good chess player sees something like that, she thinks of bringing the knight over so that it can sit in front of the pawn, assuming that it will not be captured or exchanged with impunity. So, we have a goal, and we need to find ways of reaching that goal without incurring extra expense or cost or loss. The backward pawn is hunger, the Knight is food that we need to put in front of the pawn, and how do we do that? If there is a piece that can capture the Knight before it makes its way there, we may try to eliminate that piece by taking it out or offering a decoy or whatever. Enough Chess! If I have a hamburger at home that was left over from lunch, it would be an ungodly expense for me to ship it to Africa or Asia, for example. However, I can convert that hamburger into money and send it to Africa, and they can buy food there. The trick here is for me to stop looking at the food I am eating as the same food they should eat. I will provide a means for them to have food. Now, let us look at how this can be accomplished by individuals, organizations, and governments.

Individuals:
Individuals throw away food all the time. I have to stop myself from doing it because I know how it feels to be hungry and not know if I will have food the next day, or to go to work without taking lunch because I have got other bills to pay. I can only imagine how it would be to not know where the food will come from for months or years.
There are several ways to avoid waste. First, you can cut your food up before you take a bite. I found out that if I have a big sandwich and I just bite into it without cutting into two halves or four quarters, and I get full before I finish it, I can easily throw away what is left. It is not as appetizing with “teeth marks” on it. If, however, I cut it up nicely, I either remain with a quarter, two quarters, or one half, that looks nice and it is easier for me to keep it. If I refrigerate it or freeze it, I can have it for supper or breakfast the next day. That is I have just saved myself some money and time that I could have spent getting myself a meal. You may say this is only $2 or $5 or $25 or you know how much you spend on your meals. But if you do this consistently or frequently, you will have saved $10 a month and $120 a year and you can donate that money to the WORLD VISION, RED CROSS, or OXFAM. They provide various services including provision of food to people stricken by famine and poverty. That is one way in which the food that is so expensive to ship to the poor can be made available to them. By being a little creative on how we eat. The second way also includes avoiding waste. I wanted to say prepare only what you can eat. But I will not! I say, if you have food, eat only what you need to eat, instead of just eating because the food is available. The best way to do that is to think as you eat. If you eat food without thinking, you may over-eat. It has happened to me that I eat several bags of pop-corn and when each bag comes to an end, I wonder where it went! Now I know exactly how much I want to eat, and as I am lifting the food to my mouth, I know exactly how much is remaining before it is finished, or before I am full. Watching what you eat, by eating only when you are hungry, and eating just enough, could have some health benefits which I will not go into. I think that if you plan your eating, you will limit waste, and the savings from that can be used to support any charitable organization that can provide food to the people.

Restaurants, Hotels, and Other Food Service Providers:
I think there is also a lot of waste in the food service industry. This costs everybody money. What kind of things are wasted? Produce that is going bad, food that has been prepared but cannot be sold (and cannot be kept to be sold the next day because it is against the law), etc. The waste is in the food itself, as well as the effort, time, and money that was involved in getting the food from the ‘farm’ to the dumpster. A way to avoid the waste is either to donate the food to the homeless – which are the local ‘poor’, or cut down on costs to donate the money that is saved from that to HUNGER RELIEF ORGANIZATIONS. You may click here for a list: BREAD FOR THE WORLD. Cutting costs to reduce waste can be achieved by studying eating patterns of your customers. Doing this for a year or several years will give you enough data to use in your decision making regarding how much produce you should buy and how much food you should prepare at any given point in time. You may then donate your savings. If you do not want to donate directly, you could pass on the savings to your customers by lowering the cost of the food. Thus, your customers will have more money to ’spend’ and hopefully, they can use it wisely, by helping the poor.

Governments:
Rich governments have resources to audit how money that is intended for the poor is spent. They already do other things like making taxpayer contributions to Charitable Organizations tax-exempt. Without getting into tax and accounting issues, I would suggest that Governments should make donations to charitable organization be tax-exempt in addition to the standard deduction. This would give extra incentive for the people who don’t donate much to donate knowing that it is going to benefit them during tax-filing time. Of course, here there is a cost to the government in lost revenue! May be not! The goodwill that could be generated in other countries could be more beneficial. That is a subject for another day.

Conclusion:
Food can be sent to the poor in far away places at no extra cost if we are a little creative in how we think and if we are serious about adjusting our life style to lend a helping hand. We just need to find a way to convert the food here into a medium, money, that will be sent over there, to be converted back to food. One way to make that conversion is to save or avoid waste, and then use the savings/money to help the poor by donating it to be people whose vocation it is, to help the poor in person. (This last sentence eliminates the question, “who will take the food/money there”? The people to do it are already there. They just need your help and support.)

Your comments, ideas and suggestions on anything presented in this piece would be greatly appreciated.

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