Yesterday one of my friends, Phil Shapiro, forwarded this video he made where he’s starting a side project. He wants to start something called a Wondering Contest. The whole purpose he has in mind is to facilitate more wondering in people which, in turn, would lead to more innovations in all kinds of fields ranging from science to politics. Here is how he explains his proposed Wondering Contest.

In contrast to this Wondering Contest, this morning I came across this article in The Guardian about the pre-trial hearings regarding the six police officers accused of murdering Freddie Gray in Baltimore a few months ago. The last two sentences in the previous link really resonated with me and it provided the proverbial being splashed in the face by a bucket of cold water while I was wondering about the idea of having a Wondering Contest.

One protester, Lee Paterson, said he remained concerned that charges could be dropped.

He also said: “You know, this whole thing is bigger than Freddie Gray. It’s about poverty.”

That man has hit the nail right on the head. Starting as far back as the Industrial Revolution (and maybe even earlier) there has been income inequality in Baltimore where rich industrialists took advantage of African-Americans and immigrants by paying them incredibly low wages that led them to constant economic struggle.

Sure, there was a brief thaw with the rise of the unions but Baltimore’s problems started with white flight out of the city in the 1950’s and 1960’s and it has been sliding since then. Ever since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 both Baltimore and the rest of the U.S. had to endure unions being dismantled (which started when the air traffic controller union endorsed Ronald Reagan in the 1980 elections only to have President Reagan return the favor by sacking them when they went on strike seeking better pay, better working conditions, and a 32-hour workweek) and jobs being outsourced to Third World countries while low paying service jobs have risen and CEO pay has literally gone through the roof. If you read some articles written by the likes of Paul Krugman and Robert Reich, you’d see the rise in income inequality and how it has affected more and more people.

So my friend wants to encourage more wondering by having a Wondering Contest. The only problem is that it’s hard to wonder if you’re worried about where your next paycheck is coming from and, if you do get some money, will it be enough to afford food, shelter, and other very basic necessities. You can’t do much wondering if your in constant worry about whether you’ll be homeless or have to file for bankruptcy or whether you’ll be able to afford to have enough food on the table to feed your entire family. It’s Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in action.

I’m getting more of a first-hand experience in confronting tight financial situations and trying to find paid work ever since my husband abruptly walked out on me then sued me for divorce as soon as he could. I was okay when I was married but now I feel like I’ve been treading water ever since the divorce and I don’t know if there will be an end in sight.

I get that something like a Wondering Contest can facilitate innovation and invention that can help people in the long run. But unless people can earn a living wage to feed themselves and their families, they won’t give much thought to wondering other than wondering whether they can stay financially solvent. Take a look at dirt poor countries like Haiti or Malawi and you won’t see much wondering or innovating there. Hell, take a look at the poorest states like Mississippi or West Virginia and you’re not going to see much wondering leading to innovation there either.

And nothing kills wondering and innovation faster than having a rich and powerful corporation squash smaller entrepreneurial companies—sometimes with the help of the U.S. Government. Today The Guardian posted an expose about the powerful egg lobby’s attempt to ruin a small start-up known as Hampton Creek with help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The effect an action like that have on wondering is immeasurable.

I think society needs to foster wonder so that it can lead to more innovation that benefit mankind but I think it can only be achieved if more pressing social problems like income inequality, racism, corporate domination of the U.S. government, poverty, and the ability to find jobs that pay a living wage are addressed first. Otherwise, fostering wondering in this current economic and political environment would be like firefighters focusing on saving only one tree when the entire forest is on fire. As Abraham Maslow said a long time ago:

The good or healthy society would then be defined as one that permitted people’s highest purposes to emerge by satisfying all their basic needs.

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