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Profit in Paradise--Part 1

The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!

First of all, I should state for the record that I'm not a politician, an economist or an urban planner. I'm an entrepreneur with a penchant for marketing. Having said that, let me also say that I'm right now in New York City. I had a family gathering to attend a few weeks ago and have extended my stay a few weeks longer.

As I landed in New York, one of the first things I noticed as I waited in line to pass through customs and immigration was the amount and level of coughing, sneezing and throat clearing among the crowd...seems people are a bit sicker here. Next, as I boarded a bus to take me home from the airport, my bag hit the leg of a young lady sitting in the front seat. Her response was to level a volley of a few choice curses in my general direction...seems people are bit angrier here. Later that week, as I drove up the Henry Hudson Parkway on Manhattan's west side, I noticed, to my chagrin, that the water alternated between an odd shade of brown and gray...seems things are a bit more polluted here. Throughout my stay, as I dealt with cashiers, and subway token booth clerks, and waiters and waitresses, I encountered a distinct and noticeable level of hostility, impatience and general “service with bad attitude” throughout. (I thought to myself that it was a far cry from the effusive “good morning, sir!” that I always receive from the trio of young ladies at the front cashier of Dolphin Wholesale.)

Yes, it seems there's a level of stress, tension, anger, unhappiness, anxiety and hostility that pervades virtually every facet of life and human interaction here. Now don't get me wrong, I don't want you to think I'm bashing New York. Having lived here for most of my life, I realize it has much going for it-a mecca of opportunity, a world center of finance, fashion, shopping, culture and cuisine-nothing compares to the Big Apple. But it got me thinking: Why can it also be so hostile?

Years ago, I had a long conversation with my uncle and cousin about why it was that when we all lived in Jamaica, we saw more of each other than when we lived in New York, even though we lived comparatively closer geographically when in NY. I'll spare you the ins and outs of the conversation and cut to the chase: We concluded the reason was there was more access to nature's abundance in Jamaica. Mango trees lined the streets. Star apple, breadfruit, sweet sop trees could be found along any highway. Everyone had some sort of fruit tree in their back yard.

Now why, you may naturally ask, is that important, and what does it have do with the frequency of interaction within a family living abroad? Well, we reasoned it this way: as a result of this relatively easy access to nature, life and sustenance, there is a tendency for people to share that abundance. Living in Jamaica, it's not uncommon for a neighbor to gift you with bags of mangos, oranges, cherries or whatever happens to be in seasosn. If they don't, it'll simply fall from the trees, rot and go to waste. We lose nothing by sharing nature's bounty. In contrast, that simple freedom is one that very few New Yorkers have.

Sure, people can be kind and give of anything they wish wherever they reside. But the difference in a city like New York is that any and everything you own, you have to purchase it. The tradeoff of living in the land of opportunity stacked one atop another in 50 floor apartment buildings is that there are no backyards with mango trees, no landscapes with guava trees and coconuts. In New York, a dozen mangos would cost you about $17. If you earn the minimum wage of about $7 per hour, that's 2+ hours of work you've had to exchange for those mangos. Two hours of your life. Two hours of freedom. Therefore, it does not go unnoticed on a subconscious level that, since there are no backyard mango trees to replace them, that to give them away is to give away something very valuable. There is a tendency, therefore, faced with such a sense of scarcity, to accumulate, prize and hoard those things of value that one has had to work so hard for. This tendency to hoard extends to the thing of most value that the average person trades for money in a capitalistic society: their time.

So when the weekend comes, or in truth ANY opportunity for rest from the daily grind, one is more likely to value ones rest and relaxation time and, since it's so easy-with television, cable, home delivery of videos and pizza-to insulate oneself from the outside world. Hence little time for spending with others. (And Jamaicans, stereotypically known as hard workers with multiple jobs, like many immigrants in search of the American dream, perhaps make themselves busier and scarcer than most).

Yes, in the industrialized society everything comes at a price. Food comes at a price. Nature comes at a price. Beauty comes at a price. People pay thousands each year to vacation in far away lands and essentially have to pay for access to the food, natural beauty, white sands and blue oceans we have in abundance here on Saipan. Which brings me, finally, to my point.

As we here in the CNMI strive to compete, survive and thrive in the global industrialized marketplace, it is vitally important that those in key positions of power and decision-making realize just what is at stake. It is important that in the pursuit of profit, paradise does not fall victim.

Next week, The 10 Commandments of Paradise.

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Until next time, remember, success is a journey, not a destination!-Walt


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