If Polls Ruled: Should public opinion decide policy?

President Obama greets congressional pages at State of the Union

President Barack Obama greets House and Senate Pages as he departs the House Chamber after delivering the State of the Union address in the House Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Jan. 20, 2015. (Official White House Photo by Amanda Lucidon released for public use.)

Would our system of government work better if public opinion ruled? Republicans and Democrats can’t agree, but a majority of Americans agree on a number of key policy proposals. Should public opinion set policy?

One way to look at this is to examine public support of the proposals Obama outlined in his State of the Union (SOTU) address. Gallup analysts have done just that for 10 key proposals. This week, we’ll examine two each day.

Today, we look at proposals related to economic policy.

Do Americans want to raise the minimum wage? In his SOTU address, Obama urged Congress to raise it. Gallup last asked about this issue in November 2013. Then, three quarters of Americans (76%) were in favor. A January 2014 Pew poll found similar levels of support.

Do Americans want to strengthen labor unions? Right-to-work laws weaken unions. Obama said that we need laws to strengthen unions. Gallup reports that a majority of Americans (53%) approve rather than disapprove of unions. Since 1936, Americans have been more pro-union than anti-union. But, Gallup polls also show that an even larger majority of Americans (71%) favor right-to-work laws.

The full impact of right-to-work laws is yet to be determined. Michigan is now a right-to-work state. Union membership fell sharply in 2014, reports the Detroit News. The drop is attributed to the law.

Do you support raising the minimum wage?
Would you like to see laws that strengthen labor unions?
Should polls rule?

Share your thoughts …

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Sparks of Kindness: How far will the wildfire spread?

Giving food to cats in a shelter

SOME KINDNESS FOR OUR FURRY FRIENDS? “Sparks of Kindness” recommends remembering the non-human animals in our communities.

Sparks of Kindness are deliberate acts of generosity that makes life better for someone else. As we’ve discussed this week, Sparks of Kindness is also a social movement and Facebook group with lots of practical resources. We’ve talked about the wisdom of small experiments and big experiments, along with the paradox of generosity.

Are you a Spark of Kindness?

Tangible help is a product of Sparks of Kindness. So is hope. As founder Debbie Lowre McFarland said, “I have been contacted by countless people who said that the Spark they received came at a time when they had given up hope and it made them realize that there still are good people in this world and that they are not alone. The world seems just a little smaller…and kinder.”

I asked Debbie about her dreams for Sparks. “My dream for the Sparks of Kindness,” she replied, “is that it will spread as far and wide as possible. That people will see that it really is so easy to make a big difference. It only takes a Spark to ignite a wildfire. What I consider miracles have happened.”

On Monday, I provided a short sample of Sparks of Kindness. To fan the wildfire, we’ll end the week with some more examples from or inspired by Sparks of Kindness:

  • Hand out gloves and hats to homeless people.
  • Take pet food to an animal shelter.
  • Leave a lottery ticket for someone to find.
  • Anonymously give flowers to someone.
  • Pay for someone at the drive-through
  • Leave criticisms at home for the day.

Which of these is the most appealing to you?

What would you add to the list?

Please, share the news …

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Sparks of Kindness: Is generosity a paradox?

Cover The Paradox of Generosity by Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson

Click on the cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

Generosity is giving freely and unselfishly of your time, money, and resources to benefit others. But generosity is a paradox, say sociologists Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson.

How so?

It’s a paradox because the more we give away, the more we get in return. In their book The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, Smith and Davidson put it this way: “Those who give their resources away, receive back in turn. In offering our time, money, and energy in service of others’ well-being, we enhance our own well-being as well. In letting go of some of what we own for the good of others, we better secure our own lives, too.”

Generosity, then, is good for the giver and the receiver.

They note, too, that stinginess has a price. “By clinging to what we have, we lose out on higher goods we might gain. By holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. In protecting only ourselves against future uncertainties and misfortunes, we become more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerable to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care well for others, we actually do not properly take care of ourselves.”

Understanding the paradox of generosity is easy, they say. But being generous can be hard. On this point, I beg to differ. Being generous is easy—once you think of Sparks of Kindness. This social movement provides everything from inspiration to practical tips and tools. You can see all these resources at their Facebook page.

Once you know about Sparks of Kindness, being generosity isn’t hard at all!

When you unselfishly help others, how does it make you feel?
Do you believe you get richer by giving riches away?
What’s your Spark?

What do your friends think?

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Sparks of Kindness: How about BIG experiments?

Clean laundry in a basketFIRST I recommended the idea of starting small—trying a Spark of Kindness as a small experiment in a safe place. This is a good piece of practical wisdom.

But, you can also go big! Sparks can be small or large—any Spark can start a wildfire! Is a big experiment for you?

Sparks of Kindness is a social movement, a growing network of people who spread kindness through big and small acts. Here’s one of the big ones that occurred recently. It’s the story of a single mom with 3 young children, who writes:

“I lost my mother 12 years ago, and I really don’t have any family in the area to help me. Needless to say … I am overwhelmed! Well, my son’s Boy Scout troop was at my house last Sunday for our meeting, and the leaders saw that I really needed help with several things around my house (along with mounds of laundry that I can never keep up with). So, they asked if they could get their church small group together to come help me this weekend. And they were at my house all day today!!!

“They even insisted that I leave for a little while so that I could relax and enjoy myself. I cannot begin to describe how much this touched my heart!!!! They worked tirelessly to fix my garage door, lawn mower, heater, bathroom sink…. And they cleaned every inch that they had time for, along with working on so much laundry. I am overwhelmed with gratitude!!!”

What’s your reaction to this story?
Have you been the beneficiary of a big Spark?
What would be a big experiment for you?

Your story matters …

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Sparks of Kindness: Try a small experiment?

Debbie Lowre McFarland works on some Sparks

Debbie Lowre McFarland works on some “Sparks”

Trying something new can cause anxiety. I teach courses about Positive Organizational Scholarship, and there’s always something new to try at work or home. Many people, I’ve observed, can be hesitant.

What if it doesn’t work? What if I’m embarrassed?

When this occurs, here’s the advice I always give, which I learned from a colleague: Try a small experiment in a safe place. Would this help you Spark kindness?

This week, we’re featuring Sparks of Kindness. A Spark is an act of generosity, big or small. It is also a social movement that’s gaining speed. To participate, you don’t have to do anything big. Try a small experiment in a safe place, wherever that might be for you. Starting with something at home is an example.

The founder of Sparks of Kindness, Debbie Lowre McFarland, is an inspired, active Sparker. But even she has ups and downs. Here’s a recent Facebook post that describes how she got back on the up cycle:

“Been a little out of commission these last few days, not sparking as much or planning [to Spark]. On way home from a little road trip–as I sit in the car, I’m writing on the back of Spark cards to get back into it full gear. Will be leaving these along the way. Anybody out there sparking today? Come on, let’s set this world on fire and inspire!!!”

Look closely at the image and you’ll see that these particular Sparks are simply compliments. An arrow directs the recipient to the reverse side, which is a Spark card that asks the recipient to accept this Spark and pay it forward to someone else. (You can get free Spark cards by clicking on “Files” in the Sparks of Kindness Facebook page.)

There are all sorts of Sparks, but this one is an especially good example of a trying a small experiment in a safe place.

Does Debbie’s example of a small experiment appeal to you?
What experiment would work for you?

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Sparks of Kindness: Wanna Spark someone?

Sparks of Kindness materials from Facebook

COLORFUL FREE MATERIALS are provided by the Sparks of Kindness Facebook group. Click this image to visit the group.

Want tO make the world a better place? Want to be a better person? Not sure what to do? Here’s a possibility: Join Sparks of Kindness.

What are Sparks of Kindness?

A Spark is a deliberate act of generosity that makes life better for someone else. Sparks of Kindness is a social movement. And Sparks of Kindness is a Facebook group where thousands of members inspire and encourage one another by describing Sparks, sharing ideas, and expressing their heartfelt needs and gratitude.

Sparks of Kindness was founded by Debbie Lowre McFarland. “I started Sparks of Kindness because I wanted to make a change,” she told me. “I felt like there are so many people who want to make the world a kinder, better place for us and for our children, but they just didn’t know where to start. I thought it could start with a simple Spark.”

Sparks of Kindness is an antidote to the craziness of the world, she said. It’s a way to move beyond a feeling of helplessness and do something. Kindness is the number one character strength in America, as I discuss in United America. Sparks of Kindness is a way to put this value into action.

When you Spark, Debbie says, a transformation occurs: “What it ends up with is a different way of looking at things. People spend their day searching for ways to Spark someone, to make someone else smile. No longer worrying about their own problems, they can see the good in others and want to brighten their day. No rewards or thanks are necessary, just knowing that we are helping make a difference in someone’s like for a moment or lifetime.”

Want to get started? Here are a few ideas from the group …

  • Leave dog biscuits at the dog park.
  • Learn quarters on the snack machine or at the laundromat.
  • Drop off treats to the fire station or police station.
  • Take magazines to a hospital waiting room.
  • Pack lunches for homeless people.

Is Sparks of Kindness appealing to you?
How could you start a Spark?

Care to learn more?

The following YouTube video is 10 minutes long, although you’ll get the inspirational idea after just a couple of minutes. Throughout the video, dozens of the group’s ideas for sending out Sparks are shown in snapshots and captions.

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Financial Insecurity: Better times ahead? For whom?

US Income of Top 1 percent

PERCENTAGE OF U.S. INCOME CONTROLLED BY THE TOP 1 PERCENT OF AMERICANS. The trend is clear even if the exact percentage earned by the “Top 1%” depends on the specific economic formula used to build the chart. Here are three formulas for charting the trend: BLUE is a scale developed by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez to chart the rise in pre-tax income. RED is a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scale charting pre-tax income. GREEN is CBO’s after-tax chart.

We live in a time of record levels of economic inequality. Many Americans are financially insecure, unable to pay their bills, relying on government assistance, and lacking savings or retirement accounts. But are better times ahead?

This week, we’ve focused on financial insecurity, drawing on a new survey by the Pew Research Center. The big finding is that financial insecurity leads to political disengagement. The most financially insecure are unlikely to vote and don’t express preferences for Republican or Democratic candidates. This is true for the general public and for white Americans. And, the most financially insecure Americans believe that corporations make too much profit.

But optimism is on the upswing. Here are three big indicators that better economic times are ahead:

Now is a good time to find a quality job. Gallup’s January 2015 survey shows that 45% of Americans think so. This is the result of an upward trend that started from a low of 8% in November 2011. It’s close to the highest figure Gallup has reported (48% in January 2007).

Personal satisfaction is trending upward: Gallup reports that 85% of Americans now say they are satisfied with the way things are going in their personal lives, which is the highest figure Gallup’s seen since before the recession.

Economic confidence is at a record high, according to Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index. Gallup started the Index in 2008.

The big question, of course, is whether the economic recovery will trickle down to the most financially insecure Americans.

Do you see better economic times ahead?

Do you think the recovery will trickle down?

Or, do you think that the recovery will mainly benefit the middle and upper classes?

Share your thoughts …

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