Oof. It looks like I’ve stirred something up, and I definitely didn’t mean to. If you’re one of those who’ve reacted with disappointment to my casual quoting of one of the richest men on Earth, I really get it, and I feel like I owe you a considered response.
If I could re-do today, I’d likely NOT have quoted Bezos, but since I’ve gone and done it, I’m going to face the music. I intend to give you the full explanation and context for my choice to quote him – which has primarily to do with, of all things, carbon emissions – and I hope you’ll stick around to the end of this little missive.
First, I’ll share that, like many of you, I take issue with many-slash-most of Amazon’s practices. I am old enough to remember when Amazon was a bookstore, and for years I purchased only from Powell’s Books in Oregon as a small protest against Amazon’s rapid growth. At the time, and even today, I lament monopolies, trusts, and (even more) a government that eschews trust busting in favor of collusion. In a lot of ways, Amazon is everything I stand against. There’s more:
They don’t pay their people well enough, particularly those doing the bottom-rung & essential physical labor jobs on behalf of the company. They are responsible for more transport emissions, wasted packaging, plastic consumption, and waste in general than I can even wrap my head around. They are so big they’ve left many mom & pop shops no choice but to work essentially through them, and they recently slashed their cut for affiliates – a wielding of power and greed that left many people in a sore spot. They’ve gotten so good at collecting personal information that they know what we want to buy and what to place before our eyes in order to make us hit that purchase button. It’s creepy, to say the least, and sad & disturbing to say it more bluntly.
I truly am an unlikely person to be quoting a guy like Bezos. I’ve worked hard to reduce my own family’s carbon footprint, finally reducing my home’s food waste to nearly zero this year and making small strides each day. I have spent much of my life railing against consumerism and espousing simplicity and the value of placed-based living, setting roots, and community-based initiatives. If you can believe it, I have a Masters degree in ecological literature, and I’ve long taken inspiration from the likes of Thoreau and Gary Snyder who were most content in a single-room cabin (though Thoreau especially had not just a little privilege and succor on his side).
So why would I quote the guy?
A few reasons, and I do regret not including more context in my post today.
I’d been seeing this “letter from Jeff Bezos” headline popping up here and there in my news feeds since it became public. The first handful of times I saw a version of that headline, I dismissed it totally. Why the hell would I want to read that? I’m not an employee, I’m not a shareholder, and I don’t know much about Bezos or believe that he would have anything meaningful to teach me.
On the sixth or so time the headline popped up, I clicked the damn bait. It was someone taking a personal development angle, and I am a sucker for personal development. The author had encapsulated the letter in very few words, then quoted from it sparsely before requesting that I sign up for their newsletter. I didn’t opt in on the newsletter but instead thought, “I’d better just go to the source and read this darn Bezos letter.”
So I did.
And here’s what I found to be of value, even though it came from a flawed man.
He wrote it, and I fact-checked it that Amazon has vowed to go carbon neutral by 2040. This is 10 years earlier than the Paris Agreement. Many say it’s not soon enough, and I agree! Point is, big business MUST take leading roles in drastically reducing carbon emission, and it seems Amazon is stepping up to do that – though it’s good that we keep their feet to the fire.
At some point reading the letter, I realized, “Well, shit. Jeff Bezos is doing a lot more than I am to change the tide of big-biz’s impact on the climate.” They’ve purchased a fleet of electric vehicles and not just a token-sized fleet. We’re talking 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, which will no doubt change what is possible when it comes to transportation emissions for commerce in general. Sure, they have the money to do it. Maybe that kind of investment is pocket change to Bezos. But according to the math that the rest of us live with, it’s the kind of investment that MUST be made in order to drive the cost of alternative-fuel vehicles down low enough for your everyday householder like myself to afford. Some will say he/they can be doing more, and I couldn’t agree more.
Now on to that personal development. Suspending my judgment of the man’s unfathomable privilege for just a second long enough to hear what he has to say… He talks about distinction – specifically about what it takes to stand out and doing whatever it is that YOU do at the highest level you can possibly do it. He quotes atheist Richard Dawkins in order to make the point that just “being you” isn’t ever enough and is actually a bit risky since the world’s tendency is to have you reach a state of equilibrium in which you blend into your surroundings. Without consistent effort and energy, you fade into the background, your value isn’t shared, and your message isn’t heard – or it isn’t heard far enough and wide enough. Like the journalist who quickly summarized the Bezos letter, the passage stuck with me and gave me enough value to be pondering it a couple days later.
A final few thoughts.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to being thankful for and giving in to the temptation of 2-day shipping here and there. Just want to get that off my chest. In my defense, I am very reliable about bringing my packaging to the local grocery store where it can be recycled. I know it’s not enough, and I strive to be better.
There’s one more thing here that I believe is worth talking about, and that is wealth in general. A confession: I’m not against it.
Don’t get me wrong. Billionairehood is nothing I dream of or aspire to, and I’d like to believe that I’d personally make ecological & local investments and be left with nothing more than a casual few milli if I somehow found myself with that ridiculous a windfall. As a quick aside, I wish billionaires didn’t dream of colonizing Mars since I think we’re doing a fine enough job wrecking our own joint.
But back to wealth: When it comes to millionaires and even very-multiple-millionaires… they don’t bug me in the least. In fact, I celebrate them. I read a Forbes article, for instance, about a woman named Danielle Leslie who happens to be black. She created her wealth not from privilege but from drive and focus and very hard, consistent work. Not only has she managed to build this kind of wealth for herself, but she is teaching other people how to create wealth for themselves.
Do I poo-poo this? Hell no! I cheer this woman on and can well up with tears thinking about what it means that she is living to her potential. She gets to spread her word and share her message as far and wide as it deserves to be heard!
If I were against super-wealth, I had better never quote Osho who owned 85 Rolls Royces, or the author of the popularly referenced The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer, who’s software company’s success he details in his follow-up book. Interestingly, he talks about being in a state of constant meditation as he lifted his company up to the hundreds-of-millions mark.
I’m about as likely to disregard the teachings of the wealthy just because they’re wealthy as I am to stop appreciating Woody Allen flicks because I don’t like his personal choices. I am taking another risk here by opening this can of worms, but I hear a lot of judgment of the wealthy in circles that purport to be judgment-free and “same-seeing.”
For my own, wealth is health, good eats, a calm mind, time spent with family, and an uplifting yoga practice. If I am someday a millionaire, I will not protest. I couldn’t, by constitution, be a billionaire – nor, I have learned, will I be quoting one in the near future. Thanks for reading