Could we ‘fail’ ourselves?
We could, if we desired any President to fail. But we cannot afford to. And not for all the reasons stormed up in the media or for all the regurgitated sound-bites and chest thumping clips on endless rewind last week. And certainly not for a cause that is dear to Wall Street alone. We cannot fail ourselves for reasons greater than the economic agenda.
Yes we are grappling with our challenges and what it will take to get us out of what seems a bottomless pit. Just when we feel that things can stabilize – not because they are actually stabilizing, but because someone is actually trying to do something about it – we have Wall Street serving its own logic and catering to its own investor interests. No doubt everyone gets the chills when Wall Street catches a cold. But Wall Street caught more than just a common cold, it probably caught pneumonia. And much of the pneumonia is brought on by its own doing, by ingestion in an infection ridden eco-system. And yes, it touches the nerve of everyone on Main Street as they watch their retirement nest egg wither in the gloom. Ironically though, no one stops to question the fundamental flaw of relying on the 401K model for retirement security. The whole premise of a stock market driven investment is non-guaranteed anyways. So, complaining about dwindling 401Ks is akin to contesting speed limits on the autobahn. But we, and our speculators on Wall Street, have also learnt that what seemed like earnings and gains from once ‘flourishing’ Corporates was never meant to be in the first place. All these businesses, and some celebrated ‘fortune 500s’ at that, lacked the true sense of worth to begin with while its chiefs at the helm enjoyed bonuses for cooked up performance reports.
This and many other deep set maladies of our economic fabric are constructed on a choice of values that are antithetical to long term prosperity and the pursuit of a just living for all. The impoverished underpinnings of our policies and choices are now being exposed as we witness the de-construction of the economic framework and social ethos we built our livelihoods and ambitions on. It is this revelation of the weakness of our ethical and ideological foundations that has shaken our confidence and belief in ourselves. Even as we received the first indicators in late 1999 and early 2000 of an oncoming economic decline we continued along the path to self destruction with wasteful consumption and opportunistic over extension. Our potential to operate in denial is limitless; all it takes is one streak of good news from the stock market or a lender and we throw caution and accountability out the window.
We cannot fail not just to save our homes or our jobs or meet our economic needs, though the need to succeed is crucial today given that we are fighting for survival at the lowest rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy – for food and shelter. But we cannot fail more so for purposes much greater and more lasting: we have opened the door to the possibilities of transforming our fundamental approach to economic re-construction and our value paradigm for long term solutions.
We have begun an engagement of the American people in public policy and social regeneration, something we had forgotten or shelved because of our lop-sided priorities and ill advised confidence that profit is everything and ‘everyone for himself’ is all that mattered. From Enron to Lehman Brothers, and more such cases being revealed, some of the profiteering was from questionable means – a means that bankrupts society, a means that is adverse to the progress of enduring socio-economic policy. But we have the opportunity today to begin a discourse on the review of our past choices and make modifications going forward. We have heard the call to citizen responsibility and government accountability and have witnessed a policy shift in addressing the needs of the underdog and the middle class. We have re-ignited a dialogue with the rest of the world and have begun the long process to re-build self esteem as American people. We have initiated action to reform Health Care and put the cause of Education and Science at the top of the agenda. But most importantly we have opened the minds and hearts of people to new possibilities for success. We have brought hope back to the ordinary and the discerning. All of a sudden it is as if a cloud has cleared and we begin to see the sun.
Many, who had doubted the worth of home grown values of hard work and honesty, have suddenly found reassurance. It is once again cool to help your neighbor, or be the community organizer, or want to pay your taxes on time! It is once again cool to say “I screwed up” and accept responsibility, even if you are the President. It is once again cool to get involved with issues that matter to our society and invite new ideas. It is once again cool to speak openly and act like true citizens without the fear of being branded unpatriotic. We will always have challenges, be it economic or social, domestic or foreign; but it seems like we have now been given a new set of tools to tackle these problems – the tools of dialogue, bi-partisanship, transparency, true intellectual skill and above all the honest concern to find solutions affecting more people than just millionaires who play, and sometimes manipulate, the stock market for chump change.
We cannot fail because we cannot lose all this cool stuff – the stuff that makes us hope again and gives every citizen a stake in the process of nation building. We cannot fail because we do not want to return to fear and secrecy and bickering and spite and profiteering that only helps executives of financial institutions and oil conglomerates.
We want to succeed because we now have the courage to question the mental and ethical framework of our failing policies, and the power to use the tools of collaborative problem solving, to seek the solutions we desperately need. We want to succeed because we are being shown that an America for all is a possibility again and that the discourse about our options could be devoid of political prejudice. Failure is not an option.
Now this: Are we up to it? Can we hold tight to this return to freedom, responsible citizenship and accountable governance? Will we use the new cool tools of mutual respect and open dialogue, and once again cultivate a pride of place on the world stage? The path to de-construction and re-building is not a walk in the park, also for the authors of this change, but it is a path the change agents need to tread as well, and not succumb to the potholes of political expediency, media persuasions and zealot naysayers.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.