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Change Our Story
Composer, author and philanthropist Peter Buffett on finding your own path to life fulfillment.


From East to West

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
be yourself  

I’ve just returned from China. And now that I have a small outlet for my thoughts, I might as well write them down and see if they make sense.

As many readers know, I’ve worked on musical projects that include many expressions of my deep feelings regarding American Indian—as well as any indigenous—culture. 

We all came from a tribe at some point in our past. But there are few people in the world that survive in the manner that we were once all accustomed to. As you might expect, I believe that our previous way of life had a lot of valuable components to it. But please don’t accuse me of romanticizing the past. I just wish we could have retained some of the important parts, specifically the parts around us being just a part of a larger world, a world that we were meant to live in relationship to—not in control of.

On my first trip to China, my “aha” moment was realizing that the country is, indeed, quite full of the same feeling that I had when I got to know people in “Indian Country.” I recognized a soul in China that I didn’t expect. And then it became obvious: the Chinese people are nearly all indigenous; the land they live on was inhabited by their ancestors for millennia.

What I was seeing was that same way of being that Columbus saw when he first landed. I quoted him in an earlier blog. But the upshot is that he met people with their hearts open. Ready and willing to listen, learn, share, have fun, believe in things, and connect.

I don’t go to China for commerce. I go there to share my story if it’s at all helpful. 

My book, has been met with great success in China. There are a couple of reasons for that, none probably more obvious than the fact that I am Warren Buffett’s son. But that’s absolutely fine with me. It gives me a key into a world I would have never seen. Now that I’m in, I’m having a look around.

I won’t lie: it takes a lot of energy. But it’s an interesting kind of effort. And I think that’s what happens when any two cultures meet.

Think of it as a pan of water. In its liquid state it’s very stable. And the same is true when it’s frozen. Those are like two different cultures. When the two states of being—with all the meanings and customs that they’re used to—meet, that’s where the energy of worlds colliding is released.

Here’s the tricky part about this exchange: When that relationship is forged with either side trying to get the better deal, as opposed to the better understanding, things can get a little ugly. Obviously, this can easily happen in any market driven relationship. And of course, whoever sets the measuring stick usually gets an advantage.

So here’s what I’m so struck by.

In China my book is entitled Be Yourself. And at first, I was thinking it was mostly written for the young adults in China that would be curious about the fact that I followed a very surprising—and, to them, inspiring—life path.

When I spent more time there, I was so struck by how much Western advertising for high end products I saw. And as I stepped further back and also got a little deeper into the experience of being there, I saw how the measuring stick of Western values was slowly being superimposed everywhere.

It starts simply enough with things like the Gregorian calendar. China still uses the Lunar Calendar for important dates. But otherwise, the gridlines of the West have been put to use on a daily basis.

But I love that the whole country has one time zone (even though it straddles five). I’ll bet in most of China they still say, “time to get up ... time to have lunch ...” etc. As opposed to “6:45” or “12:30.”

But when you start to see metrics in fashion, economics, real estate that all look pretty Western, it feels like putting a square peg in a round hole.

So I’ve come to learn that my Chinese book, Be Yourself, actually applies to the country at large. The development of a social system for mankind (I’m including all elements anyone can think of—politics, markets, medicine, education, etc.) is a work in progress. Sure China can learn things from other societies. But clearly, it must Be Itself. If it loses the centuries upon centuries of soul, the world loses. If the West insists on addicting the East to its version of growth and prosperity, I call this no different than the Opium Wars of the past.

I’m really not sure what to do about this other than say it out loud. Many of the Chinese people I speak to seem to be deeply concerned that China will lose something extremely rare and valuable in the rush towards a very confounding version of growth and happiness. And it’s not just the older people.

I know the culture still holds a deep sense of balance. It’s the heartbeat of any indigenous culture. If it stays strong, I believe there will be a better future for us all.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

 

(How You Want It) To Be

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It

old woman

“(How You Want It) To Be” by Peter Buffett  

This is a song about understanding; about how the stories we believe might change if we saw the world through someone else's eyes. Of course we all know the old "walk a mile in someone's shoes" line. But somehow the reality of that is hard to achieve. Partly because there are around 14 billion pairs of shoes to fill.

I'm writing this as I ride a high speed train traveling through the Chinese countryside. How could I possibly ever know the intricacies of the lives I'm seeing from a relatively close distance while speeding along at 200 mph? I won't pretend to. But I can respect the fact that I never will, and honor their life as one that is as important as mine or someone dear to me.

Why can't we assume that everyone has a life as complex as our own? That everyone has family stories that haunt us or inspire us? That every culture has a history that shames us or makes us proud? And that, in truth, almost all stories hold both beauty and ugliness—perfection in the very lack of perfection.

The opening stanza plays off of the old joke that even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day. It's the idea that everyone can be right sometimes. But how do we make room for all the rest? How do we allow for the messiness of the gray areas?

As we move further and further into a digital world, one that's made up of ones and zeros in almost every facet of life, how do we keep this binary imprint from seeping further and further into our everyday thinking? As George Bush Jr. so perfectly said in very black and white terms, "you're either with us or against us."

I believe that this kind of thinking will destroy us all.

As the song says:
You can be sure of
What you take care of
Will start taking care of you
 

If we live a life of inclusiveness, we will be included in life.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future. 

Image courtesy of NeilsPhotography, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

We Can Do Better Than This

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
evolution of man 

As I will probably say in many blogs, I’m all too aware that there are people that know way more than I do regarding just about everything I write. Generally, I’m just making observations as a casual but curious (and concerned) bystander. Often I find that my thoughts about a lot of things haven’t changed that much from when I was, say, 4 years old.

So with all that being said. This is what my 4-year-old self thought this week:

I’m surprised that we’re not further along in our development as humans.

We’ve all heard the old, “If they can put a man on the moon, why can’t we have ...” (Something like – “shorter lines at the DMV?”)

But seriously, we’ve gone through some ice ages, fought a gazillion wars, built pyramids, and come up with a bunch of math and science and amazing art. We can put a man on the moon.

We can fly thousands of planes around the world safely everyday and build a network of satellites that move ridiculous amounts of data.

So why are we still calling each other names, trying to hoard all the stuff, and shooting each other?

Is this it? Can you really call the last few thousand years progress? If you’ve been reading earlier blogs, you know I’m a fan of indoor plumbing. And refrigeration is handy. There are plenty of things about our march towards the future that are nice to have around. But we’re still treating each other the same way that we have for a really long time.

Now I use “we” pretty generally. There’s no question that there are pockets of cultures and communities that were not constantly beating each other up in some way. But, on balance, I’m not seeing a great improvement in compassion and respect over time. 

What’s the story? I don’t want to believe that this is it—human nature, etc. I want to believe that we have some evolution left in us.

At this moment, we are the custodians of our future. This is a relatively new concept in its totality. Sure, we know most indigenous communities have a deep understanding of how their actions will effect future generations. But let’s face it: it’s easy to have that worldview when you aren’t facing problems on a global scale. Things are different now. So we have to behave differently. And we’re not.

And because we’re not, we’re going to quite possibly kill our children’s children. Does that get the point across? Do you care about your children’s children? Or will it be enough that you’re off the planet and you got yours?

I think that’s pretty much the world we’re living in. And, again, I use “we” generally. There are billions of people that have no real say in the matter. But we’ll probably kill their children’s children, too.

We’ve got some serious story changing to do.

I think some radical shifts in thinking have to occur. The good news is that we probably behaved pretty well in our deeper past. I actually think human nature is a pretty loving and kind nature. It’s culture that gets in the way. A culture is dead when a set of beliefs kills. And we have a lot of killing going on. And sometimes in very subtle ways.

I think placing blame just feeds the beast. That’s pretty obvious. So what do we do? All say “truce,” lay down our arms, cash in our stocks, shake hands, and have a party? Oh right— my 4-year-old voice can only take me so far.

And John Lennon and Yoko Ono thought of that in the '70:

War Is Over
If You Want It.

I hope we get some folks talking back here. Or over at Change Our Story. I’m not the “end of the world” type. But there are all sorts of graphs that show really terrible things happening if we don’t change our behavior quickly. There’s been a long search for unifying theories—it’s a classic quest. Can we find one that works for mankind?

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of DaMenace through Uncyclomedia Commons.

 

 

 

Here Comes the Sun

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
nasa sun 

As I thought about a Thanksgiving themed blog, I was sort of overwhelmed with various places to start the conversation. Personally, I have many things to be thankful for, but we all know that there are lives filled with such pain and complexity that it’s hard to tick off all the things to be thankful for without some sense of survivor’s guilt.

But is there one thing that we can all be thankful for? The obvious answer: the sun.

And then I started thinking about how hard it works every day. Massive interchanges of energy without a single thought of how important it is. It has no sense of whether we’re “entitled” to its output; no judgment about how deserving we are of its hard work. Of course, it’s not hard work—it just comes naturally.

It’s being perfectly the sun. It’s not trying to outdo other stars, or wishing it could cool off so we would visit.

You may be thinking at this point that I’ve lost a little bit of my mind. But I think if we could all remind ourselves—and be humbled by—the significance of this event that is ongoing in the sky that allows us to live our lives. And how this star is also a lesson in how we can become our best selves. It might bring us all back down to earth a little and remind us that the very best lessons are all around us in the natural world.

We will be reminded if we stray too far off the path that keeps us connected to the natural world around us. And the sun may just be the first in a series of these reminders. Yes, the climate is changing. And there’s no reason to think that the fifth major ice age was the last one. But the sun just has to burp a little to deliver the knock out punch that brings us back to, say, a few hundred years ago—before electricity was king.

So this Thanksgiving, when you’re listing off the things you’re grateful for. Remember old reliable—the sun. And remember that just like it, being fully you—fully present in your humanity and your connection to the world around you—is all you really need to be.

And you might want to keep an eye on this website: http://spaceweather.com/ 

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of NASA Goddard Photo and Video, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

 

Divided We Fall

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It
 

Here's another one from Mark Twain's "history doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes" department. Take a look at the map below. I saw maps similar to this posted on various websites after the 2012 presidential election and I think it's fascinating:

election 2012

We all know that we live in a divided country along various ideological lines. But this map illustrates just how consistently divided we are. I'm certainly not suggesting that today's Republicans are supporters of slavery! But this map clearly illustrates that some fundamental thing or things have not changed very much. What's the story?

For the answer to that, I'm asking for your help. I don't think there's a simple answer. And, I think more importantly, there's not an easy solution. When politicians talk about getting the country "back on track," what does that mean? When did we go off the rails? And is it one track or multiple tracks? Is it really possible to unite a country that's been divided since the Civil War; a country that only seems to come together when we have an obvious common enemy? (I say “obvious” because I believe there is a common “enemy” in our midst that many of us fail to recognize.)

A few observations:
• The country was and is an extraordinary experiment. When it was formed, the concept of a Nation-State was new. Nations of laws governing large landmasses and large groups of people was new. Free market capitalism on the scale it was adopted was new. And myriad outgrowths of this experiment—public education, for instance—were all new.

• For thousands and thousands of years, this is not how societies organized themselves. There were versions of parts of all these things. But nothing in scope or scale of the United States of America. My feeling is that this experiment is far from over. And this particular iteration of the experiment is one of many.

• I'm hoping—as I've said in the past—that change will come through a natural evolutionary process. I don't think we need revolt. But change will come. The future is far from a static march towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

• There needs to be radical thinking regarding how people organize themselves in community. And the thing to remember is that much of what we came from will serve us well in the future. For instance, many consumers are recognizing the value of eating organically grown vegetables. Our grandparents didn't have a name for that other than "food."

I have hoped that this blog would spur thoughts that will help lead us to a future where we see commonality in a shared humanity instead of arbitrary lines on a map that show us who's "with us and against us." 

Please write your thoughts or post links to ideas that might give us a roadmap to the future.

I’ll start with one I found interesting:
http://www.wildethics.org/

and another:
http://www.greattransitionstories.org/wiki/Main_Page
 

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of Mod-n-Pop Studio, Dan'l Linehan.
 

When Life Isn't What You Make It

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It

look listen live

“Where We Are” by Peter Buffett  

My book, Life is What You Make It, has been received very well. It’s been translated into over 15 languages and sold over a half a million copies. But every time I’m asked to speak about it, there’s a small part of me that just can’t get behind the title.

For many of us, it’s true. We’re defined by the choices we make and the stories we believe. Wrong turns become unpredicted life lessons that help us find our way. Seemingly impossible odds become just the thing that propels us into fulfillment of a destiny unseen at the outset of life’s journey. And certainly committing to a life path is the first sure way of getting there.

But for others, the story we’re born into breaks us before we can get through the first chapter of our lives.

Recently, I spent the afternoon with some beautiful souls—young women who shared their life history with me. I’ve seen what a broken system can destroy. But it’s almost always been on the other side of the world, slightly abstract. Rarely has it been easy to relate to someone’s story as possibly your own. But somehow this was different. These were girls that methodically and personally walked me through their lives from their earliest memories. Describing how their lives were shattered through sexual abuse at an age when most of us were learning to tie our shoes.

How do you say, “Life is what you make it” to those young women and the thousands of women (and men) like them? You don’t.

But here’s what you do: listen.

What I have learned over and over is that giving voice to the truth inside you is the first step in making your life your own. And when you listen, you bear witness to that truth ... that story. Only listening can begin to provide the safety that is required to take a step into life. And real listening—done without judgment, without needing to “save,” without being repulsed—is no small feat. But speaking truth is even harder.

My latest song, Where We Are, was written after meeting these young women. Because I know that we are only as free as the most bound among us. And as long as voices are silent, we will never know where we are as a species on this planet. We will never know how truly evolved we are—assuming that we’re defining evolution as greater acceptance, understanding and love of our fellow man.

As long as the truth is not spoken, we will be living a lie. And that lie will manifest in the societies we create. In every disconnected experience—whether it’s in the food we eat, the things we buy, or the experiences we share—if there’s not truth at the core, it will continue to add to the disharmony that seems to permeate so much of the world around us.

I truly believe that nearly if not all ills this society faces are symptoms. Poverty is not the problem, war is not the problem, obesity is not the problem, a broken education system is not the problem, GMO’s are not the problem, the 1 percent is not the problem.

These are all symptoms of massive disconnection. It is no surprise that the internet exploded like it did with Facebook being the biggest thing on the internet. We crave connection.We need to be seen and heard. We want to be loved.

But Facebook won’t get us there. We’ve moved from an organic ecosystem to a digital ego-system in a few short generations. How do we take the best of what we’ve created (like refrigeration, indoor plumbing, electricity, you know—actually useful things) and marry it with what has worked for thousands of years?

Why are so many people afraid? Hungry? Bought and sold? And not just somewhere else but right in our own backyard.

I don’t think this is human nature. I think we’re better than this. I think we’ve been better than this. What’s the story?

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future. 

Image courtesy of mRio, licensed under Creative Commons. 

 

 

How Do We Turn Judgment Into Empathy?

Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren Buffett, is an Emmy Award-winning composer, NY Times best-selling author and noted philanthropist. Currently, he is releasing socially-conscious music and touring his "Concert & Conversation" series in support of his book Life Is What You Make It.
 
empathy 

Judgment: the forming of an opinion, estimate, notion, or conclusion, as from circumstances presented to the mind.

Empathy: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.

Every one of us has, at some point in our lives, thought, “If you only knew the whole story you wouldn’t think/say/act like that.” We wished that someone could “walk a mile in our shoes.”

This political season heightens the feeling. Every issue on both sides of the political spectrum ultimately trickles down to effecting individual lives in individual ways. How can the African American single mother of three in Detroit that lost her job be represented inside the same system as the $100,000 per minute hedge fund manager in New York with the offshore accounts? If either is asked about the other, how could they possibly employ empathy? How do any of us achieve true understanding of another's life experience?

Is it possible that a land filled with millions of wildly disparate stories could find enough commonality to fly a single flag?

When this country was founded, farmers made up about 90 percent of the labor force. You can bet that most people had a basic understanding of their neighbor’s situation. Two hundred and thirty years later, the United States was found to have one of the highest levels of income inequality among similarly developed nations.

How can we possibly follow the Golden Rule when the people that have the gold are making the rules?

The only way we can possibly move from a place of judgment about another’s situation is to take the time to hear the story. To listen and absorb the experiences and feelings that makes up someone else’s life.

What’s the fundamental difference in the two definitions above? One has to do with the mind and one has to do with the heart. What if I told you there is recent scientific information that tells us that those two organs are joined in ways we never really imagined?

According to HeartMath, “Research has shown that the heart communicates to the brain in four major ways: neurologically (through the transmission of nerve impulses), biochemically (via hormones and neurotransmitters), biophysically (through pressure waves) and energetically (through electromagnetic field interactions). Communication along all these conduits significantly affects the brain’s activity. Moreover, our research shows that messages the heart sends the brain can also affect performance.”

I believe that when we can base our actions on empathic responses to what we feel—as opposed to judgments that we make—our entire perspective will shift. We will be responsible—able to respond—to each other in the most humane of ways. Christ was quoted as saying, “Live in me, let me live in you.”The way I read that is, when we truly listen and learn through experience, the experience of the “other” we will create a common humanity that knows no judgment, only understanding.

It’s not impossible. It’s a change in the story.

What do you think? Share your story at changeourstory.com. Visit www.peterbuffett.com to learn more and Change Our Story to join the conversation on how we all can become active participants in shaping our future.  

Image courtesy of D.C.Atty, licensed under Creative Commons.