Thursday, February 12, 2009

Perspective Askew?

What happened to these guys? When did they forget their hometowns? When did $178,000 for a car or $26-million for an apartment or $27-million in bonus money begin to sound reasonable? What would their mothers say? Take Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs. He was raised in government subsidized housing in Brooklyn, the son of a postal clerk. Or Ken Lewis, CEO of Bank of America. Son of a nurse and Army sergeant in Georgia. Or John Mack, head of Morgan Stanley. Raised in Mooresville, North Carolina by Lebanese immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island in 1908. His father ran a small grocery store in Mooresville. When did these men lose sight of real people and real life? I watched them yesterday as they bristled under the collective glare of the House Financial Services Committee, the members of which seemed more than put out with the CEOs. Since receiving taxpayer dollars in September of last year - money handed over to help put their banks back on track - these Masters of the Financial Universe have been the overseers of pricey corporate retreats, hefty executive bonuses, increased interest rates on consumer credit cards, and reduced availability of loans for us - Mom and Pop America/Payers of Taxes/Benefactors to Big Banks. Something's just not right here. These men in nice suits barely managed graciousness yesterday. Forget humility, or contrition, or empathy. I wondered if they'd ever borrowed money from their parents before they were gazillionaires - if they'd ever had to say: "Dad, I can't pay my rent this month. Can I have a $50 advance?" I tried to imagine the son of a hard working postal clerk going back to his father a few days later to say: "Oh, I spent that $50 on beer. Can I have another $50 for rent?" I hoped, at some point, they were conjuring up the faces of their mothers and fathers in some scene from their past... a scene in which they learned lessons of responsibility and gratitude. But I'm not sure those images still roam in the minds of those men. Money is funny stuff. It imparts a power and an entitlement and a blindness that invades people like cancer invades cells. We lose our ability to discern our wants from our needs when we have plenty. We lose sight of the lavishness of a lifestyle that includes expensive cars, paid household staff, Caribbean vacations, and $1,500 shoes. We forget where we came from. And we become intolerant of those who did not come along. And, yes, I'm afraid I have to use "we" in that paragraph instead of "they." Because most of us - those who have computers and are reading blog postings, anyway - most of us are just a few degrees of separation away from these men. Aren't we? When I turned off MSNBC last night, which I'd watched on my 40" HDTV, while sitting on my comfy sofa, in my 1-of-3 options for living rooms, with my $5 jar of chocolate sauce and $3 box of graham crackers in my lap, and my $2 bottle of water on the table...I thought, "What clueless, arrogant, sons of bitches. No wonder the world hates us all." And then I turned on clean hot water in my master bath, closed the windows in my bedroom with the brand new memory foam mattress on the bed, put on clean PJ's, and read a $4 magazine by the light of an energy efficient $5 light bulb. If 80% of the world is watching, I look no different from Lloyd Blankfein or Ken Lewis or John Mack. When did I lose sight of real people and real life? What in my oblivious lifestyle have I put on the backs of those who can't imagine a life like mine? How have I squandered generosity with no thought of gratitude? Do I wear big, ugly arrogance on the sleeve of my $50 GAP sweater? If nothing else good comes from this economic fiasco that most of us struggle to understand, perhaps we have this - a reminder that to whom much is given much is required. And...I'm sorry to be the one to tell you...that whom includes us. Peace.

1 comment:

Daniel Brenton said...

This post was highlighted in the February 12 edition of Gratitude Watch.

Thank you for promoting the value of gratitude.

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