Taking It to Extremes – Part 3 of 5 – Society versus the Economy

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Introduction: (Skip if you have read Part 1)

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes, they became dangerous and counterproductive.

Life is an ongoing struggle to find our proper balance.  However, it may never be a question of equal balance because the proper balance can never be static.  There are many dimensions or polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but more a matter of dynamically imposing a temporary order between two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind as an aide in thinking about this process.

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept is dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.

Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are driven to allow one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side. Liberals are evil to conservatives and conservatives are evil to liberals.

Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  This week we will look at number three on my list.  We have already discussed the “efficiency versus effectiveness” dimension in part one of this blog series and the “growth versus development” dimension in part two.

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group
  1. Society versus the Economy:

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Today we are faced with an epic pandemic.  This threat has led to a battle between those who want to protect the economy and those for whom society is more important.  This is not the first time such a battle has been waged.  Four thousand years ago Moses battled Ramses over the same issue.  Pharaoh Ramses had cheap labor with the Israelites.  The Egyptian economy was purring along.  Pharaoh did not want to change anything.  The Israelites were not so happy.  Their society was in chaos as it was being slowly but inevitably destroyed by Egyptian culture.  A few hundred more years and there would be no Israelites.  A leader named Moses decided his people must leave Egypt.  He first tried to convince Ramses to simply “let my people go.”  Ramses would have none of this idea.  He had a good thing going with cheap labor and he was not about to rock the boat.

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Moses decided to play hard ball.  He brought a plague to hurt the Egyptians.  Ramses was aggrieved and decided to allow the Israelites to leave.  However, at the last-minute Ramses changed his mind.  It was a question of what would be good for the economy or what would be good for the Israelites.  The economy won out.  Moses brought another plague and then another.  Each time, Ramses would acquiesce and then at the last minute he would change his mind.  He finally let the Israelites leave but once they were “on the road” he had his last-minute regrets again and sent his army to bring them back.  The rest is (as they say) “history.”

Fast forward to the world in 2020.  A pandemic more widespread and as lethal as any in history has struck the world.  The battle is again engaged between leaders like Donald Trump who care more about the economy and leaders who care more about society.  A false dichotomy if ever there was one.  Under John’s corollary, taking either position and ignoring the other position can and will only result in a destruction of both.  You cannot have a society without an economy, and you can not have an economy without a society.  But what is the purpose of each?  What is a society and what is an economy?

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A society is a group of people, perhaps a tribe, a nation, or a family that choose to live together to share mutual resources.  People that live together beget relationships that involve feelings of community that grow out of common concerns.  These feelings range from love to sometimes hate.  There is a mutual interdependence in a society that implies the good of the society is based on the good of the individual and vice versa.  Societies develop a strong bond based on this mutual interdependence.

An economy is a means of providing resources for a society.  It is the means towards an end.  The end being the perpetuity of the society.  No society can exist without an economy.  Social economies have existed since the cave people and at one point simply involved people hunting and gathering together.  In modern times, we see economies based on a much more complex web of “hunting and gathering.”  The hunting and gathering in a modern society may involve Internet hunting or gathering crops at the local supermarket.

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A supply chain exists in modern societies based on what economists’ call “comparative advantage.”  This involves multiple components of a supply chain each doing what they do best.  Farmers raise dairy cattle.  Dairies make milk.  Trucking companies transfer the milk.  Retail stores sell the milk and other dairy products.  Consumers work at some part of a supply chain (there are thousands of supply chains that exist in the world today) to earn money to purchase goods and services sold at one or more other supply chains.  This is a simple version of an economy.  The bottom line is that in the 21st Century, no jobs mean no money.  No money means no ability to purchase goods and services.  Ergo, you starve to death or rely on the charity of your neighbors in your society.

Since the Covid-19 Pandemic began, leaders seem to have chosen sides in a fruitless and ignorant battle between “society” and the “economy.”  Over and over again we have seen leaders propose one extreme position or the other.  “We must shut everything down or we must open everything up!”  In the USA, there has been endless wrangling over a second stimulus bill.  Instead of intelligently looking at the balance between society and the economy, both Democrats and Republicans have used the crisis to further their own goals and agendas.

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This lack of leadership of both parties directly dovetails with the lack of leadership set by the former President of the United States.  A man whose own agenda was based on keeping an economy going to further his chances for reelection.  For a man who scorned Marxism and socialism, he realized that the economy always plays a major role in the life of the common person.  He thought that if the economy was going strong, people would overlook the thousands of deaths of their friends and neighbors.  He created a narrative that the entire pandemic was “false.”  The deaths were false.  He claimed falsely that the hospitals were reporting everything as Covid-19 deaths when they were actually due to something else.  I personally talked to many Trump supporters who told me that doctors and hospitals did this because the reimbursement rates were higher for deaths due to Covid-19 than for other causes.

trump on virus magic

I served four years in the United States Air Force.  I learned while in the military that a commander, whether of a battalion, a squadron or a platoon has a major responsibility to keep his soldiers as safe as possible.  Any military leader who recklessly and needlessly puts his or her soldiers in harm’s way will be tried and court martialed for “dereliction” of duty. Following are two examples from a Marine publication titled: “Leadership, Ethics and Law of War Discussion Guide for Marines” by Marine Corps University, Lejeune Leadership (2008)

“The platoon commander was charged with violations of Article 92 (Dereliction of Duty), Article 109 (Willful and wrongful damage to an automobile), Article 118 (Premeditated murder) and Article 133 (Willful and wrongful failure to safeguard the detainees) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice on 1 Feb 2005.”

“1st Lt Lawson was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to account for LCpl Rother’s welfare by posting him alone as a road guide. He was also charged with disobeying an order for two violations: failing to post guides in pairs as Judgment Case Study 5 Dependability Proficiency as directed and failing to provide a roster of the guides to the logistics officer before they were posted.”

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We have a former President who claims to be the Commander in Chief, yet he violated every canon of military law by recklessly and needlessly putting the entire US population in harm’s way by his disregard for the lives of these people.  His actions resulted in the deaths of thousands and yet I hear no outcry for justice.  I hear no strong voices noting his responsibility for these thousands of deaths.  As the primary person responsible for politicizing this Pandemic, he must be held accountable for these deaths.  The liars and sycophants who supported him must also be held accountable.

I blame the Democrats for their continuing stupidity to face reality.  I blame the Republicans for their lack of integrity and for their greed.  Both parties have made the pandemic in the USA much worse than it needed to be.  The lack of courage on one side and the greed on the other side created a perfect storm for the Covid-19 Virus to spread.  As I speak, we are witnessing a spike and increase in cases that seems beyond belief.

online-school-socialization

Part of the reason for the increase in Corvid-10 cases has been the rush by both parties to open the schools.  So-called well-meaning educators and health experts even supported this rush.  On one side it was the belief that “day care” was needed to get the economy going again and on the other side, it was the need for teachers and schools to regain income.  Both sides used such flimsy excuses as “students need socializing” and would not get it at home or “students would fall behind” if they did not have direct contact with teachers.  No one ever defined what “socializing” children means or how schools accomplish this.  As for students falling behind, were they talking about their ability to take these ridiculous standardized state tests which add little or nothing to a student’s ability to think and reason for themselves?   No one ever defined what these children would be “falling behind.”

I realize that I have digressed from my original thesis.  To sum it up, a failure to balance the needs of both the society and the economy has led to disastrous results.  Add to this, the overall lack of leadership by the US President and both parties and we have a crisis that has never before been witnessed in the USA.  Some of these same problems beset the rest of the world.  The stupidity we have seen is not simply a manifestation of American ignorance, greed, and short-sightedness.  The world abounds in bad leadership.  Will we learn anything from our mistakes?  Will we admit that we were so polarized that neither side would listen to the other side?  Will we make progress under a new President?  Only time will tell.

National Academy of Science issues Garbage Report Recommending Schools Reopen in the Fall.

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“This fall, public school districts should prioritize full-time, in-person classes for grades K-5 and for students with special needs.”   So says a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  Many are using this report to endorse opening all education institutions FULL-TIME and even decrying distance learning as a failure.  If you want to read the full report, you can download it in PDF for no cost.  Go to:  Reopening K-12 Schools During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This is one of the worst pieces of research I have ever seen in my life.  It is claimed in the report that “The report includes an updated review of the evidence from around the world and a set of recommendations on mitigation strategies for the corona-virus in school settings.”  In actuality, there is little factual data supporting a reopening strategy but a great deal of conjecture.  Some of the so-called findings would seem to support NOT opening.  For instance:

“there is no definitive evidence about what suite of strategies is most effective for limiting transmission within a school setting when students, teachers, and other staff are present.”

(145 Pages of this report is mostly information you could get online about the effects and history of the Covid Pandemic.)

“The existing guidance documents offer an extensive list of potential strategies but little guidance on how districts and schools can or should prioritize them.”

(Little guidance but they are making their recommendations to open the schools anyway).

“Many of the mitigation strategies currently under consideration (such as limiting classes to small cohorts of students or implementing physical distancing between students and staff) require substantial reconfiguring of space, purchase of additional equipment, adjustments to staffing patterns, and upgrades to school buildings.”

(When and how will this happen?  In the next month? Does this seem realistic?)

“The research community should immediately conduct research that will provide the evidence needed to make informed decisions about school reopening and safe operation. The most urgent areas for inquiry are: • children and transmission of COVID-19, • the role of reopening schools in contributing to the spread of COVID-19 in communities, • the role of airborne transmission of COVID-19, and • the effectiveness of different mitigation strategies.”

(This is a so-called research study but it recommends we make more research to find “evidence” about school reopening that they are already recommending to reopen.”

“Second, the committee determined that, given the short timeline for producing this report, an exhaustive, systematic review of all available guidance documents for schools and districts was not feasible.”

“The committee met virtually five times over a 4-week period.”

(The time spent doing “research” is ridiculous.  It is nothing but a cut and paste job that looks like it came from the White House.”

“If children do transmit the disease efficiently, as they do with influenza, for example, physically reopening schools could accelerate the transmission of COVID-19 in a community.  Data needed to answer this and other important questions are unlikely to be available by the time the decision to reopen will have to be made.”

(The Data will not be likely to be available, but we recommend anyway?”)

“Twenty-eight percent of public school teachers are over 50, putting them in the higher risk age category for serious consequences of COVID-19 (Taie and Goldring, 2020). On a survey of teachers, principals, and district leaders administered by the EdWeek Research Center in June, 2020, 62% reported that they were somewhat or very concerned about returning. Any plans for reopening will need to address these concerns.”

(So how do we protect the teachers? Administrators and Parents?)

There are five major reasons this study offers for reopening the schools, but they give little evidence to support a true analysis of the costs/benefits for reopening.  Nor do they offer any alternatives. They are as follows:

  1. Many families rely on schools for daycare.
  2. Schools provide meals
  3. Schools provide mental health counseling and health care
  4. Schools are a center of social life
  5. Minorities and disadvantaged youth will fall behind wealthy children who have better home access to the internet and distance learning. 

My response to the above issues:

  1. We need national daycare as well as national health care for all.  No question.  But are schools the right place for day care services?  Is reopening going to solve our daycare problem?
  • Many schools have already made arrangements to help provide needed meals.  We do not need to reopen the schools to do this.
  • In Wisconsin there is 1 counselor for about every 470 students in the state.  (See data from “https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/Publications/ratioreport.pdf)  It does not seem very likely to me that much mental health counseling is actually going on.  This ratio is even worse in many other states.
  • Schools may be a center of social life, but kids will not die from a slightly diminished social life.  I doubt many high school kids suffer much during summer months from a lack of social life.
  • Suddenly, they are concerned with minorities and disadvantaged youth? This is a quite disingenuous argument.  Educators have been asking for years for more funds to help address this issue and suddenly it is given as one of the primary reasons for reopening the schools. The report even notes the pervasive systemic racism in the education system.  Now they want to reopen the schools to address the issue of racism?

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After reading this 145 pages piece of garbage, I may never have any respect again for the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.

I can only suspect that the White House threatened to cut off their funding if they did not publish something to support Trump’s determination to open the schools. This is clearly part of Trump’s agenda to get the economy to reopen before the elections. The result of his pressure on states to reopen and his lack of support for efforts such as masks to mitigate the spread of this virus are nothing short of criminal. The administration is willing to sacrifice “old people” for the sake of the economy and now they are willing to sacrifice “young people” as well.

Teachers Say Rush to Reopen Schools Without Covid-19 Safety Plan Shows Trump and DeVos ‘Do Not Care About Students’

 

 

 

Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress:  Part 1- Education

KuhnCycle_BasicCycleAccording to Thomas Kuhn when a paradigm shifts, you cannot be successful doing what you did in the old paradigm.  In a new paradigm, you must obey new rules to be successful.  Our culture and world are going through one of the greatest paradigm shifts in history.  It has been happening now for four generations starting with the Baby Boom generation.  The transition or swing generations have been Generation X and Generation Y.   These later two generations have been stuck between paradigms.  The final or new generation has been somewhat appropriately called Generation Z.  Generation Z *(See Footnote) represents the end of the paradigm shift.

The rules and cultural norms that have traditionally applied to: family, education, government, employment and law are all legacy based and present significant barriers to change.  In computers, a legacy system refers to either hardware or software that is out of date but is difficult to replace because of its widespread use.  I am using the term as it is known in the IT world, to refer to our outdated social and economic systems that are difficult to replace because of first: their widespread use and second: because of attitudes and policies that make it difficult to either change or replace them.

(Listen to Tracy Chapman sing  “The Times They Are A Changin.”  A song made famous by Bob Dylan)

Generation Z must create new rules for success and happiness to reign in this new order.  The emerging social and business systems will march to a different set of norms and standards.  Those systems that fail to change will gradually erode and die.  Their deaths will not be without casualties or bloodless.  Already we see the decay and decline of our antiquated educational system.  Our justice and prison systems are not far behind in obsolescence.

Legacy ChangesIronically, the Baby Boomers started the paradigm shift and are now the major roadblocks to change.  As Baby Boomers age, the systems they are most comfortable with (What I am calling the legacy systems) are increasingly dysfunctional.   In this blog, I want to talk about how the traditional systems have become barriers to change and the ways that these systems will need to be changed in order for Generation Z to achieve the success and happiness undoubtedly their parents want for them.  Indeed, the one thing that has not changed in six thousand years is the desire by parents for their children to live in a better world then they did.

What is the New Paradigm and what was the Old Paradigm?

The change in paradigms is embodied in the following dominant forces:

  1. From an Analog to a Digital world
  2. From Family centered to Child centered
  3. From Independence to Interdependence
  4. From Text to Visual based
  5. From Linear to Nonlinear sequencing

Each of the above factors has played a major role in the decline of social systems and economic systems in the USA if not also in many other parts of the world.  However, before we look at these individual factors, let me repeat a very important fact that is often ignored.  The changes in our systems will happen whether we want them to or not.  They are as inevitable as the weather changing or the mountains eroding.  There is nothing anyone can do to stop them.  Examine any of the five factors noted above and ask yourself “how likely is it to be turned back or changed back to what we once knew in bygone years?”  The only choice that we as a society and culture have is whether we want to try to restrain these changes or whether we want to help facilitate them and make the transition smoother and easier.

The old system and its rules and norms are barriers to change.  Laws and policies that support the old legacy systems now have the vice of creating friction and turmoil.  Just like two tectonic plates sliding over each other, when smooth transition is not permitted, one result may be an earthquake that shatters reality with its violent upheaval.  We are seeing many examples of both the inevitable frictions and resulting earthquakes in many areas of society and business today.  Sometimes, the changes are smooth but as often as not they are violent and chaotic.

Let’s look at two of what I am calling our legacy systems to see how these explosions and cultural clashes are playing out.  We will start with our education system (which is now quite similar all over the world).

How Does the Education System Block Change?

Paradigm-ShiftIn the late nineteen century, the American education system was one of the most progressive in the world.  Offering access to people that before could never have gone to school or college, the system was a reflection of many of the emerging industrial era virtues.

  • A mostly democratic system of mass education
  • Standardized learning
  • Linear and hierarchical movement through a graduated system of grades, curriculum and tests
  • Experts in various fields who could bring ideas and knowledge to a centralized location
  • Easy availability of texts and reading material
  • Credentials essential for the new Industrial Age that was emerging

For nearly one hundred and fifty years, the elements of the Education or School paradigm were beneficial and coveted by many other nations of the world.  Witness, the vast numbers of foreign students who came to attend Higher Education in the USA.  The factors making our education system a success in the early 20th Century have changed.  The need for an education system is still there but the “School” system that now dominates the “education” paradigm is hopelessly obsolete.   Each one of the five forces has played a role in this obsolescence.    Let us look briefly at the role that each has played in degrading our present education system.

  1. From an Analog to a Digital world

analog to digitalStudents now carry as much information in their ubiquitous smart phones as in all the encyclopedias in the world combined.  Many schools that once banned IPADS and Smart Phones are beginning to allow them in the curriculum.  Attempts to control what students can see are rather fruitless and doomed to fail.  (The 12-3-14 Casa Grande Paper reported today that the FBI seized 20 boxes of an LA school’s iPad documents.  “Hundreds of students initially given the IPADs last school year found ways to bypass security installations, downloading games and freely surfing the web.”  HORRORS (My comment)

2.  From Family centered to Child centered

family versus child centeredSingle parent families are now nearly 40 percent of all households.  About 4 out 10 children were born to unwed mothers in 2013.  https://singlemotherguide.com/single-mother-statistics.  Children are now the center of attention in many households.  Whereas the family was once the most important component, children are increasingly the center of the family system.  Evidence for this is numerous.  From Soccer Moms to Helicopter Moms to parents that blame teachers for all that is wrong in the school but would never blame their children.  As an educator for over 40 years now, I have seen this shift firsthand.  Today, in all too many cases, if the child misbehaves or acts out, it is the teachers or schools fault.

  1. From Independence to Interdependence

independenceAmerica has always prided itself on rugged independence.  Many examples exist to show that much of this was image and not reality. Nevertheless, from individual grades to individual tests and individual merits of achievement, our schools have reflected this standard in its policies and procedures.  Sharing information with others in school whether on a test or writing assignment is usually labeled as cheating.

In business as in school, the individual performance ethic also reigned supreme.  This has gradually but inexorably been changing.  Today, the team norm has become increasingly dominant in the work place as we see that the old saying “two heads are better than one” is an essential platitude for innovation and creativity.   Schools are still lagging considerably behind the marketplace on the value they place on team work, cooperation and interdependence.

  1. From Text to Visual based

Visual-Tsunamis-Ketchum-first-pageFrom the early Jane’s readers to English Classics to modern stories like Harry Potter, the school system is dominated by a text based paradigm which has made the text-book the center of learning for most classes. This is true from kindergarten to Ph.D. programs and is of course reflected in ideas like Common Core and standardized curriculum.   At the college level, I have been told that I had to use a textbook because everyone else was using a textbook.  Recently we have seen that most hard cover textbooks have become e-books but this is a minor change and does not reflect the real underlying fact that kids today are increasingly living in a visual world.

Examples of this change abound:  Windows based interface systems, Smart Phone icons, You-Tube videos, documentaries, and just about every famous novel in history has been rendered into some form of video.  Children today are visual learners while the school system has standardized on text books, written assignments and term papers.  I wish I had a dollar for everyone that has said “Kids today do not know how to read or write.”  While, they may not express themselves in ink and papyrus, one only has to look at YouTube to see the abundance of musical and visual creativity now being displayed by young people today.

  1. From Linear to Nonlinear sequencing

non-linear-narrativeSchools are like factories with assembly lines. Everyone moves together at the same pace doing a standardized set of procedures designed for maximum efficiency.  Of course, these procedures were wonderful during the Industrial Era and propelled the USA to world leadership in manufacturing and production.  They also made the USA education system the envy of the world.  Today, these concepts are obsolete in business and also in education.  Just as businesses are moving to mass customization, so our schools need to move to customized learning curriculum designed for team of learners with similar interests and goals.  Our school system is now a testament to inefficiency, boredom and frustration for more than half of all students attending.

Conclusions:

Why are children dropping out of school or getting pregnant in school at horrendous rates?  I think the answer is simple:  School is boring and not meeting their needs. If in a business, your customers stopped coming, you would assume that something was wrong with your products or services. This does not seem to have occurred to either politicians or educators.  Perhaps, it is a case that “The fish is the last one to see the water.”  Schools have become obsolete.  The American education system now serves well only a small percentage of the students that enter the system.

Drop Out RatesMany will survive the system only to be glad when they finally get out.  Critical thinking is not well tolerated and the system does not accept challenges to its fundamental premises. Nevertheless, every school shooter represents a distorted but none the less serious challenge to the education system in America.  There will be many who ask “Is he crazy, how can he say that?”  One only has to understand the concept of a chaotic system to know that in any system that is undergoing decay, outliers or special causes will spring up that do not seem to be part of the system or that seem to have no relationship to the other elements in the system.  These special causes are all part of a normal system of variation.  In systems with a high degree of instability or inconsistency, the amount of variation results in increasingly greater episodes of chaos and breakdowns.   Looking for reasons for these “special causes” only results in speculation and frustration and failure.

No single theorist has painted a profile or single underlying reason for the increasing violence in our schools.  I submit, the schools and their dysfunctional paradigms are ultimately the cause of this violence.  If this is true, we will see more and more examples of such violence as our school system gradually deteriorates and becomes increasingly less relevant.  No amount of police in the hallways or concealed weapons will stop this inevitable and remorseless deterioration.   We are well past the time when we need a new education paradigm for the 21st Century.

In Part 2 of “Social Legacy Systems:  How They Block Change and Prevent Progress”, I would like to show how our legacy Prison and Judicial System has become a negative and restraining element in our present social system.  The result has been escalating and unsustainable increases in prison costs, legal costs, police costs and costs associated with our judicial system.

Time for Questions:

What is your opinion?  Do we need to change? Why or why not? Why are so many people only interested in half measures of change?  What will it take to change our education system?  Are you willing to work or financially support the changes that are needed? Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“And suddenly you know: It’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.” ― Meister Eckhart

* Footnote:

Gen Z, Gen Y, baby boomers – a guide to the generations by Harry Wallop

 

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