Sunday, March 1, 2009

Necklace of Trouble

The real estate meltdown gets all the blame for the world’s financial problems but it is just one bead on a string of troubles having to do with greed. There are plenty of others on the necklace: investment ponzi schemes, toxic loans disguised and sold to unsuspecting investors, millions siphoned from failing companies, credit cards maxed out, no-bid contracts. The list is endless.

What made us so discontent that we were willing to do anything to have more and better stuff? I submit that communication got us here. Twenty-four hours a day we watch people have more, get more, do more. Repeatedly we see granite countertops or eight cylinder cars where laminate and four cylinders will do quite nicely.

There are several programs that illustrate my point but let’s look at just one – a prime time series about surviving in a jungle settling. The show is not about overcoming difficulties in the wilderness. It’s about one person lying and cheating more successfully than anyone else. There are no negative consequences for this behavior. The best liar is handsomely rewarded for it and millions of people see it happen.

Thanks to Madison Avenue and a corporately-owned media that is itself concerned primarily with wealth our desire for riches is incessantly nourished. Instead of rooting out the vice in our midst, the media built an altar to it and erected celebrity idols on it.

Do I blame the media for the financial problems that currently beset us? Mostly I blame “we the people.”

We willingly worship at that altar. When our children cheat, we blame the teacher. When industry leaders steal from us, we continue to do business with their companies. When our politicians lie to us, we re-elect them. We ignore what we know is right and instead do what we think will make us rich.

The strongest form of communication is action. What we do or don’t do says everything about who we are. For years we told ourselves that what a person could buy and what someone owned was the key to determining that person’s significance. The tragic results of that focus are all around us.

As we struggle with the consequences of our self-indulgence, what will we communicate to each other and our children going forward? Will our actions tell a different story? I certainly hope so.

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