Monday, 29 October 2007

Multi-Level Marketing: A Personal Experience

A few months ago, a close friend introduced me to the concept of multi-level marketing (MLM). I attended what is known as an overview presentation and I was persuaded to purchase a starter-pack. The latter was aimed at giving me an idea of some of the products that the company sold; I also received some material about how to run my own business as a product distributor.

Multi-level marketing was presented to me as a way of becoming rich - very rich - over a period of three to five years. As the boss of my newly-formed company, I was expected to undergo a training phase that would help me to persuade other people to repeat what I had done; buy a starter-pack, buy the products, and sell the opportunity to others.

Apart from providing ample assistance to beef up one's business skills as a product distributor, the people who persuaded me to board the MLM bandwagon stressed the importance of personal development in order to succeed. This took the form of countless events, usually organised at extremely luxurious hotels, during which a "life skills guru" would come down from the proverbial mountain to enlighten the masses who had paid a considerable amount of money to discover how they could become ultra-rich. Out of curiosity, I attended some of these events. In spite of the profiles of the gurus present, I was not really impressed by what I heard. Most of the "wisdom" was a mixture of personal experience with undergraduate-level psychology. As a psychology graduate, the talks were useful to remind me of some basic principles that I had studied at university several years ago. The personal experiences were sometimes encouraging, but I have learned to interpret such tales very cautiously.

Human behaviour is frequently a product of numerous variables, many of which are still being studied by several psychologists all over the world. If a person had a god's-eye view of all the possible variables and of the ways in which they interact to produce a particular action, it would be very easy for that individual to replicate a behaviour. Sadly, it seems that we are still quite far off from being able to obtain such a broad understanding of human deeds.

During a personal development event, it is fairly easy to hear gurus saying that following a certain event in their lives, they "put their minds" to their goals, "worked extremely hard", and eventually succeeded. Apart from the fact that such terminology is quite vague, the fact that the listeners are not exposed to the god's-eye view mentioned above means that some key variables or some vital interactions among a number of factors might not be mentioned during a presentation. Let me give an example. If Bill Gates had to write a book about how he became so successful, there might be countless variables which he fails to mention due to the lack of detailed knowledge about human behaviour. Consequently, the reader who is interested in duplicating Bill Gates's actions to become equally successful might fail miserably unless all the essential variables are in place.

Although something small could always be learned by attending the personal development events, they were mainly a big waste of time and money for me. I, therefore, decided to stop attending.

There were, however, several business development events. Even though I managed to attend a few of these, I found it very hard to attend them all regularly. This was mainly due to the fact that they started at 7PM and normally dragged on for around two or three hours. After a day's work, attending such events was very tiring!

As the months went by and I was better able to analyse the development of my own business, I started formulating a number of observations. First, all my efforts to persuade other people to start their own business failed miserably. The reasons such individuals offered varied, but the general reaction was that this was just another of those schemes that promised huge wealth in return for relatively little work. Once a person had that perception, it was incredibly hard to change such beliefs. A great deal of the people I talked to had already been approached by others and they had already made up their minds about MLM ages ago. Second, in spite of all the big talk at the events about the potential of MLM to make one achieve financial freedom, I realised that even though I had already spent well over a hundred pounds on products and events, I had still failed to see a single cent roll into my pockets! This is not to mention the amount of time spent on the business, too. Third, even though the products had a lot of research to back them up, I was unable to notice any significant difference in the way I felt when I compared them to the products I had been using in the past. Since the products supposedly contained various beneficial ingredients, they cost much more than the ones normally found in an average supermarket. If one wanted to see some considerable financial results, it was essential to persuade people to start their own business and to spend, at least Lm 40.00 per month.

Although I eventually managed to convince a couple of close relatives to start their own business, they could not see themselves spending a minimum of Lm 40.00 every month. And this is one of the biggest weaknesses of MLM, at least the way that it has been operating in Malta thus far. Since Malta is a very small country and many people know or are related to one another, it is not so difficult for countless individuals to persuade others to spend that initial sum of money to start one's own business. The problems start when people are expected to be spending the aforementioned sum of money on a monthly basis and on products that are mostly food supplements, personal hygiene, and household cleaning ones. A full-time university student who still lives with his/her parents and even an individual with an entry-level job might be able to start their own business, but it is extremely unlikely that they will be able to spend a minimum of Lm 40.00 per month on such products. After having spent over a hundred pounds and after having persuaded two people to spend more than Lm 70.00 each, I only earned Lm 8.00 or so in return!!! At least, it was something, but there was clearly a huge imbalance when comparing my income with my expenses. This factor played a big role in pushing me to drop out of my MLM business.

At the beginning, I had decided to approach the business as a way to earn a secondary income. I had surely no idea of the many disappointing factors with which I came into contact as time went by.

Nowadays, I am no longer involved in the MLM business field. I think that I bailed out just in time. This is because the concept is reaching cult status here in Malta; the same quotations about success and wealth are being circulated all over the island in an extremely annoying way. It is becoming impossible to have a rational discussion about the weaknesses of MLM with the individuals who have transformed themselves into converts of this new religion. Furthermore, the greed element is so strong that I have often got the impression that a great deal of the people involved in MLM are only interested in making huge sums of money; they appear to have little interest in anything else. Given my political views, such greed for money makes me feel sick!

In theory, MLM sounds great as an attempt to earn some extra money. It seems to have worked out well for those people who had access to a strong social base consisting of individuals who already had enough cash to be able to spend, at least, Lm 40.00 per month. The personal development aspect appeared to work extremely well with those individuals who, devoid of any ideology to turn to, adopted the type of business I was introduced to as a new religion. In my case, I currently prefer to think about ways in which the members of every society can be guided towards a future whereby every person can be happy without having to depend on money.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Do We Ever Really Die?

I saw a dead body for the first time when I was 13 years old. The body was that of a boy who was hit by our school bus. My paternal grandfather died of cancer less than two months later. Both experiences brought me face-to-face with what I consider to be humanity's worst enemy: death.

Since then, I have been intrigued by the following question: do we ever really die? I tried to find some solace by turning to the Jerusalem Bible and to other Roman Catholic books. As expected, all the material I found in religious books was based on faith. I felt somewhat comforted by what I read and by the assurances uttered by various priests that no human being really dies; the spirit that resides in every person simply moves to live in another part of the universe, commonly referred to as "the spirit world". When I was still in my early teens, the religious material was enough. During those days, faith in God and in other related matters came easily to me. As time wore on, however, I felt the need for more scientific answers. Putting the religious literature aside, I started hunting books that treated death in a more analytic way.

Nowadays, I have quite a few books about the subject in my library. Many of them were written by internationally-renowned spirit mediums such as James Van Praagh. A number of scientific studies were carried out on various mediums and the results were quite interesting. Sadly, given that death is still widely considered to be an issue that falls within the religious domain, very few scientists have taken the plunge to conduct numerous studies about it.

As far as I am concerned, I must admit that death scares me. There are so many things that I would like to do! The fact that death could strike at any second compels me to believe that there is no time to waste; today could be my last day and I, therefore, have to work as hard as possible to achieve all my goals. Of course, this sort of thinking is the result of my fear that death could be the end. If I were absolutely sure that we do not ever really die, I would feel much more tranquil; I would be able to think that I have the rest of eternity ahead of me in order to make all my dreams come true...

Almost every time I watch the news or read the papers, I come across articles about people who lost their lives in car accidents, wars, and in many other ways. I always wonder about the goals that such individuals had and about how many of their goals they had achieved at the moment of their deaths. It makes me shudder to think that all those people will never be able to continue trying to translate their dreams into realities.

I get the same feeling when watching movies involving the killing of several people. Most individuals might be disturbed by the ways in which the people are murdered, but few seem to think about the implications of every death that is shown. In order to be more specific, I would like to mention Spielberg's Munich. The movie shows how a team of Israeli agents was sent on a mission to assassinate a number of Palestinian individuals who were supposedly responsible for the organisation of various terrorist acts. As each Palestinian was gunned down or blown to pieces, I kept wondering: what about that person's dreams? What about his family and friends? These issues were totally omitted from the movie. I am not saying that I approve the actions of those Palestinians, but I have often believed that murdering a person is not the best way to deal with a terrorist. Sadly, when watching such movies, the "bad guys" tend to be depicted as monsters who have never carried out any good deeds in their lives and who need to be killed in order to build a better world. Seriously, how many war movies are there which present an objective picture of the "evil guys" and which show the grief of their loved ones following their deaths at the hands of the "good guys"?

Back to the main question: do we ever really die? On the basis of what I have read until now, I must say that some of the books that I have read present various interesting points that strongly suggest that no person really dies. Having said this, the fact that so little scientific attention has been devoted to the possibility that human beings are immortal leaves many questions unanswered. Furthermore, it seems that the findings that have been reported so far are not strong enough to reject the possibility of other explanations besides the one that asserts that we never die. Consequently, there is still a great deal of uncertainty in my mind.

I strongly believe that since death affects all people, the scientific community ought to devote more time and energy to discover whether human beings are immortal creatures. I think that if death is currently the end of a person's life, it is fundamental for scientists to work harder on how to make people immortal. And assuming that death is the end, perhaps a time will come when science would also be able to resurrect all the human beings who have ever lived on this planet!!! I know that I am letting my imagination run a bit wild here, but what is there to lose by nurturing such a dream?

Image source:

Visit to Sicily

Yesterday Wendy and I went for a day-tour to the beautiful island of Sicily. The tour included a visit to Taormina and to Mount Etna.

As we journeyed to Sicily on the Maria Dolores ferry, the sea was quite choppy. Although this only made me feel a bit dizzy, it had a fairly negative impact on Wendy's stomach. Given that we did not take any medication with us, I asked one of the crew members for a pill that could help. I gave it to Wendy, but we were already close to Sicily when she took it. Hence, the effect appeared to be negligible while on the ferry, but she felt much better when we arrived at our destination.

Shortly after our arrival, we had a 10-minute breakfast break at a very nice bar in Pozzallo. I had a delicious chocolate croissant. Still worried about her stomach, Wendy did not eat anything. While the other individuals in our group were still having breakfast, Wendy and I took some pictures on a nearby breathtaking sandy beach.

After our brief stay at Pozzallo, we headed towards Taormina. The coach trip was quite long, but we really enjoyed the view as we went from one area to another. Our guide was a very pleasant fellow and he provided us with some interesting facts about life in Sicily.

Taormina is a spectacular place. When we got there, Wendy and I were extremely hungry. We bought some souvenirs, took a few pictures, and we then had lunch at a beautiful pizzeria. I ordered a pizza 4 formaggi while Wendy, being a sea-food lover, chose a pizza with shrimps, small tomatoes, and mascarpone cheese. Both pizzas were DELICIOUS!!! They were not too big and the base was not overcooked. Sadly, when we eat pizza in Malta, it seems that the edges of the base are often burned as a result of negligent cooking.

While we were having lunch, the weather changed completely. A few claps of thunder were followed by extremely heavy rain. Totally ill-equipped to deal with such terrible weather, we were trapped in a small alley. The rain prevented us from visiting many of Taormina's spectacular spots. In order to avoid losing our bus, we dashed to a souvenir shop and purchased a couple of plastic raincoats. Although our heads were covered, when we got to the bus, our jeans were drenched!

After our adventure in Taormina, the coach moved on to Mount Etna. We stopped at Il Refugio della Sapienza, which is the highest spot that can be accessed by such a means of transport. The temperature stood at around 11 degrees celcius. There were thick clouds of fog which often enveloped the entire area, making the various people walking around look like ghostly apparitions! The sky was overcast and even though the rain was not as strong as at Taormina, we got a bit wet once again. While there, we bought some more souvenirs. In particular, we bought a small doll of Orlando Furioso, a couple of chocolate bars produced in Modica, and two honey jars (one of these contained almond-based honey while the other one contained pistacchio-based honey).

Since the weather was quite cold outside, Wendy and I went into one of the bars there for a snack. I had a small pastry and a delicious capuccino while Wendy had a canned drink. The place was very cosy!

Following our short stay at Mount Etna, we boarded the coach once more to go back to Pozzallo. While on the coach, we watched an interesting documentary about the volcano's history. Looking out at the dark sky, it was possible to observe the almost-constant flashes of lightning.

Although one does not get to see or do much during a one-day tour, we really enjoyed it! Indeed, we are already looking forward to our next visit to Sicily!!

Sunday, 7 October 2007

A Period of Study and Reflection

The regular visitors to this blog might have noticed a break in my posting. This was mainly due to two factors: first, I have an insurance exam coming up quite soon and studying eats up an amazing amount of time! Second, I have also been thinking a great deal about various social problems and about the extent to which most of the current social democratic parties are equipped to deal with them successfully. Unfortunately, the more I read about the agendas of numerous parties of this kind (including the Malta Labour Party), the more disillusioned I felt.

Nowadays, many individuals are still saying that socialism is dead. For all those who dedicate themselves to a rigorous study of this ideology, it will become extremely clear that socialism could still be a very relevant set of principles for our times. I believe that it is the social democratic parties that are dying a slow death since by embracing numerous aspects of capitalism, they are not really distinguishing themselves from other capitalist political parties.

With reference to Malta, as pointed out by one of the regular visitors to my blog, when Dr Alfred Sant was Prime Minister, he implemented a number of measures which could not be called "socialist". The cutting down of the university stipends was an example. The fact that Dr Sant's policies do not always appear to be leftist should not come as a big surprise; the man studied Business Administration at Harvard University and one could, therefore, expect him to apply various capitalist principles that he learned there to the Maltese society.

Malta and every other country needs to understand that as long as capitalism reigns, the world will never witness a lasting peace. The capitalist ideology has become so deep-seated in the minds of millions of people that few individuals seem to be capable of realising how it is affecting their everyday behaviours. In virtually all the countries that have embraced capitalism, it is quite easy to notice an obsession with individualism. In such places, one could really talk about an individualist cult; the underlying notion seems to be that every person is a god who ought to live as he/she pleases, regardless of the plight of the other members of the community. If one wants to play loud music all night long, nobody should dare to tell that individual that he/she is disturbing other people in the neighbourhood. If someone attempts to regulate another's annoying behaviour, there is often a huge fuss made about trampling on one's rights. This state of affairs is likely to lead to more social unrest and to more exploitation as one capitalist government after another sit by and adopt a laissez-faire attitude.

As capitalist political parties continue to hold sway in various parts of the world, the obsession with individualism has profound implications for the way in which countless private businesses operate. As the owners of such organisations brandish their freedom to act as individuals and the capitalist governments remove more and more regulations so that they can benefit from the generous donations that are handed out during election times, the private sector is clearly becoming more powerful than the government in affecting the lives of countless individuals.

After much reading and reflection, I have drawn the conclusion that Malta needs another political party. The country requires a party that clearly understands the perils of capitalism and is willing to struggle against it.