Is the sky falling?

I have started this blog at least a hundred times in the past 10 days. However, with the daily volatility in the world, quite candidly, I had a hard time getting my head around what I really wanted to say. Today, the world looks terribly different from when I started this entry.

The inevitable and unrelenting hangover of intoxication from greed.

How in the world did we get here? And what in the world do we do now?

Well, I am certainly not an economic guru, a Wall Street type (which may not be all bad these days), or a maneuvering politician. No, I am a small business owner, loyal patriot of America, and sole provider for myself. Nevertheless, I have a few clear and deliberate points I want to share.

1. Even the most well-known icons can fade away when stewards ‘lose the plot’.

“There were five….now there are only two.” It seems surreal that names such as Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, and Bear Sterns have virtually vanished from our corporate roster. We now have only two investment banks surviving – and one needed a $5-billion booster shot from Warren Buffet. Large banks are also dropping like flies. I doubt the original intentions of these entities’ founders even remotely resembled what the business antics were of late. I read a fascinating article several days ago in the Dallas Morning News (www.dallasnews.com) which offered a concise historic view of these firms’ founders. It peaked my interest – and i researched this further: In the late 1800’s, Charles Merrill and E.C. Lynch met at a boarding house in NYC, became roommates, initially sold equipment for soda fountains – and basically started this firm from quite humble beginnings. The classic Horatio Alger story. The same is true for Henry, Emanuel, and Mayer Lehman – from a cattle ranching family in Prussia. They started with a small shop in Montgomery, Alabama…where they bought and sold cotton. After the civil war, they decided to open a commodity trading office…named Lehman Brothers.  The same ‘rags to riches’ story is true for Robert Stearns and Joseph Bear (and Harold Mayer – whose name was never added to the company logo).

I wonder what they would think of their namesake companies now?

I know a little about situations like this. There are three important people in my life who also sold their respective businesses, only to have the new ‘stewards’ lose the plot and ultimately compromise the level of excellence, customer service, and corresponding reputation which had grown these businesses into institutions. And, I am also quite certain that Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard whirled in their graves over the past 10 years given what their well-respected company has gone through.

Well, to be straight, we all know we don’t control other people….only ourselves. So, once sold, the new ‘stewards’ can do with it what they want. Irrespective of these corporate giants or small businesses, the point is this:

Sometime over the past 100+ years, collectively and individually, we lost the tenants of fiscal responsibility, budget disciplines, and to make it personal (which is where it all starts anyway) – we are basically buying things we didn’t/don’t have the money to pay for.

So, we see the insatiable desire for more and more things beyond our current reach get the best of us.

GREED.

As Lao-tzu (604 BC-531BC) said so aptly many centuries ago:

“There is no calamity greater than lavish desire. There is no greater guilt than discontentment. And there is not greater disaster than greed.”

Where was/is our barometer? Have we forgotten, as a community of Americans, where we came from? Lest we forget: humble beginnings, builders, creators, innovators, struggling and working hard to thrive. Now we are over-leveraged, gambling our future, and expecting ‘a free lunch’….with little ownership or accountability to the basic tenants of honest business.

My point is this: perhaps the lesson learned, and to be applied to our own lives, families, businesses, corporations, non-profits and country, is if we forget where we came from – the tenants and values by which we live, lead, and govern….we, too, can easily vanish.

It is our responsiblity to hold steadfast to our values and expect the same from others. Otherwise, we continue to gamble with our legacy.

2. The truth will set us free.

A cliche, yes. Appropriate and accurate – absolutely.

I am not one for blame, rehashing of ills or wills.  Only when we can learn lessons from history and experience am I one for recommending that course. Simply put, we are all in this together – like it or not.

I wish, as idealistically as this may sound, that we could acknowledge mistakes made on all sides. All sides, from all perspectives, by all entities. Period.

It has been said that character is undeniably revealed – the good and the bad – when our backs are up against the walls. When there are no more face cards in the deck, and we have to play the hand we have been dealt. This is where our American character will be revealed.

This is not about ego, partisanship, grandstanding, throwing people under the bus, or the ‘haves and the have nots’. This is about acknowledging and accepting the reality of where we are….collectively, as Americans, and fixing it.

3. So, what do we do now?

“What I know for sure” (to borrow a phrase that Oprah has made her own):

Re-reading the last chapter will not change the ending of that chapter.

Remember it, learn from it, respond to it, take action to address it…then turn the page.

There is another chapter being written right now. And guess what? We are writing it.  Most of us have ‘read’ and lived at least one chapter which was worse….whether it be: World War I, World War II, The Great Depression, the Korean War, the dot.com bust, 9/11. Goodness, some of us – our parents and grandparents – have lived through all of them! One guarantee in life – none of us get out un-scathed.

However, we can and will survive. ONLY – and I mean this – ONLY if we pull together. In times of crisis: extended hands become giant levers. The present moment becomes potent – on many fronts. Each of us will need to do ‘heavy lifting’ for ourselves and to support each other. No one will be above ‘chopping wood and carrying water’. Perspective, balance, and tempered measure will be the order of the day.

This is our generation’s legacy.

So, as for me, I cannot and will not succumb to fear. The sky may be shielded from the sun, and we are undeniably in for some rainy days; however, I do not believe the sky is falling. As Robert Downey Jr. says (and yes, I am quoting Robert Downey, Jr. – after all, I figure he has had his fair share of rainy days and ‘lessons learned’!):

“Faith is not a dirty word. And hope is not for fools”

I plan to put my nose to the grindstone and continue to work as hard as I can. Button down the hatches, tighten my already tight fiscal belt, diversify as best as I can, and continue to pay attention to the world around me. Then, I am going to rent Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” (and maybe even “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” for good measure), walk my sister’s dog, breathe, take in the fall weather…

… and Believe, Trust, and continue Contributing to our nation’s next chapter…..our Legacy.

4 responses to “Is the sky falling?

  1. Kristin…well said, interesting insights and comparisons. I certainly agree that most importantly we do indeed need to keep working individually and together to make “it” better. No doubt we can turn things around and recover. But, to do so, I believe we all have to shoulder some level of personal responsibility, learn the lessons and then start doing things differently! Thanks for sharing.

    Best, George

  2. What a great way to look at this mess! After all, we’re here and will be here for a time. It’s best to pick ourselves up by the boot straps and continue. I love this goofy, screwed up country and believe it’s our duty to continue to live our American dream!

    Great blog, K!

    Jean-Ann

  3. Kristin,
    I agree with all you said but in addition I might suggest we need to add vigilance and accountability. All of us were enjoying the bubble of prosperity to the extent while we knew in our bones there would come a day such as this we failed to hold ourselves and others accountable. Perhaps our watch-words should be: Read the fine print, select your representatives carefully, go for value not high risk/high reward and resist the temptation to be manipulated by politicians, unscrupulous businesses and false promises even when it is uncomfortable to do so.

  4. Kristin – this article offered a fabulous perspective on the cyclical nature of the economy and the consistency of human behavior. The examples point out both our tremendous potential for creativity and innovation; followed by our equally strong capacity for greed and sefl interestl. Ultimately, we each have to be the keeper of our own conscious, contribute what we can and aspire to follow the four agreements. Those principles would have gone a long way to prevent much of where we find ourselves.

    Thanks for your observations and your optimism.

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