Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Electrical Shame

Our electric company seems to have come up with a new way to "help" us save electricity: shame.

Every couple of months, we receive a letter in the mail full of charts and graphs and little boxes quoting specific facts.  The charts rank our energy usage in comparison to our closest 100 neighbors.

Now, the information itself turns out to be interesting but flawed. Our household ranks 64th of 100 and over 2 months we use about 1000 kWh more energy than similar sized houses in our area.  However, most of the houses for blocks around don't hold as many people as ours does. I'd say of the 30 houses closest to us, maybe 5 have a family of 4 people in them.  The rest are 3 and mostly 2 or 1.  We often have 5 or 6 people in the house.

Secondly, of all those 30 houses almost everyone works outside their home.  They leave around 7am and return around 6pm. With a home-based business and homeschooling, we often have 5 of us here most of the day with the lights on, running computers, printers and various other electric appliances.

A better measure of our ranking of use of energy would be a number based on the amount used per person per hour.  Of course that would be incredibly complex for the power company to come up with, so they resort to a quick number and quick comparison.

All of this to say that the "home energy report" from the electric company lacks the details needed to be truly accurate or actually very useful.  But it is filled with insecurity-inducing language and charts.  "Efficient Neighbors (in cheerful green), All Neighbors (calm blue), YOU (dark grey)."  "Your Rank Last Month #64. You rank is improving.  Great job!" "You used 3% MORE electricity that your neighbors."

Somehow it reminds me of a grandmother, "Lily called me to say her granddaughter just quit her job as medical director of the hospital and is moving to Haiti to help support the earthquake victims. Isn't she a nice girl?" Nothing every really says YOU are wrong or has a problem, yet somehow there is a distinct sense of not measuring up.

Freedictionary.com offers this definition for shame:
shame  (shm)
a. A painful emotion caused by a strong sense of guilt, embarrassment, unworthiness, or disgrace.
b. Capacity for such a feeling: Have you no shame?
2. One that brings dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation.
3. A condition of disgrace or dishonor; ignominy.
4. A great disappointment

Now that I've rambled on for 6 paragraphs about this, I'm not sure where to go with it. The letter, and the idea that the electric company is spending plenty of time and money sending it out, entertains and fascinates me.
- Isn't it odd that the company that makes their money by selling us electricity is trying to shame us into using less?
- Upon whom is the shame of my family's electrical usage supposed to fall?  Do we bring dishonor, disgrace and condemnation upon our family?  The neighborhood?  The electric company itself?
- What do I actually care how much electricity I use in comparison to my neighbors if I know my family is using the electricity we need without crazy amounts of waste?
- What value is there for us the consumers in the shame mail?  Why not use the gas company's tactic of showing my usage over time so I can detect patterns or notice if there is a sudden rise in my bill.
- Who came up with this idea? Did they really perceive it as a shame campaign?  It would be truly fascinating to sit in a room with the people who devised this plan and understand what their thinking was. Did they get a bonus for it in their performance review this year?

How about you? How does your electric company feels about your electrical performance this month?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Go Team Barnacle!!!

Our taxes are complete today!  It isn't even April yet.

This is akin to a miracle considering that several years in a row we finished our taxes in the fall.

Yay us!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Imagine My Surprise

A few days ago I finally picked up a novel given by a friend years ago, The Go-Between by LP Hartley. The book rather mysteriously unfolds as the author sorts through boxes of old memorabilia.  We learn *something* happened when he was a boy that has determined the course of his life, without yet an inkling of what the event was.

Here's what he says on page 16 as his memories of the event slowly unfold:

Should I have acquitted myself better, with the knowledge I had now? I doubted it; knowledge may be power, but it is not resilience, or resourcefulness, or adaptability to life, still less is it instinctive sympathy with human nature; and those were qualities I possessed in 1900 in far greater measure than I possess them in 1952.
I was thrilled and excited to see Neufeld's very vocabulary about the power of grieving the disappointments and losses of life in this sentence, written in 1953.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to be an Ally

One of the things I hear/read regularly in both the adoption related world and the race related world is that as parents and people of privilege, we need to act as allies. Which sounds really great.  Except I've never deeply understood what that means or how to go about becoming an ally (which doesn't stop me from trying - as random and misguided as I maybe).

This week I came across an article forwarded by someone on the Coalition of Anti-Racist Whites (CARW) list serve. The article, entitled Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression: the Role of Allies as Agents of Change, contains the definitions and explanations I crave to better understand what being an ally means and some steps I can take to get to the point where I would actually start to believe I lived my life as an ally to my family and friends instead of just another well-meaning white/straight/non-adopted/able/middle class person.

I hope you'll read it and join me in working to become agents of change.  Post in the comments, I'd love to hear what you've learned or enjoyed about the article.

In addition to grooving on the content, the writing style pleases me.  The author engaged me immediately and continued to make the topic approachable, enjoyable and interesting. Here's the first bit of it:

 The Role of Allies as Agents of Change 
The Rev. Dr. Andrea Ayvazian 
Many of us feel overwhelmed when we consider the many forms of systemic oppression that are so pervasive in American society today. We become immobilized, uncertain about what actions we can take to interrupt the cycles of oppression and violence that intrude on our everyday lives. One way to overcome this sense of immobilization is to assume the role of an ally. Learning about this role-one that each and every one of us is capable of assuming- can offer us new ways of behaving and a new source of hope. 
Through the years, experience has taught us that isolated and episodic actions - even dramatic, media-grabbing events - rarely produce more than a temporary blip on the screen. What does seem to create real and lasting change is highly-motivated individuals- usually only a handful at first- who are so clear and consistent on an issue that they serve as a heartbeat in a community, steadily sending out waves that touch and change those in their path. These change agents or allies have such a powerful impact because their actions embody the values they profess: their behavior and beliefs are congruent. 

read the rest of the article here: Interrupting the Cycle of Oppression: the Role of Allies as Agents of Change