Monday, January 5, 2009
This is not the first rough start for a New Year. Remember Y2K? We thought the turn of the Millennium (12/31/1999) would usher in the End of Days. But that midnight turned out to be something of a global gag. Mid-year predictions of the collapse of all things digital turned out to be an excuse for the world to upgrade hardware and software – creating what we now call the Internet bubble. The NASDAQ climbed like the launch of the space shuttle and didn’t take a nose-dive for another couple of months; after we replaced all of our computers.
But the New Year following the attacks of September 11, 2001 was no joke. The market lost considerable value once more as the nation picked through the rubble at the base of the demolished World Trade Center. Innocence vanished. The belief that two wide oceans buffered us from enemies that wish us harm evaporated, and a wave of unprecedented vulnerability swept over us like a tsunami.
Back then we didn’t imagine that we were on the brink of an economic boom. But we were. The years that followed brought unbridled global expansion. That awful vulnerability transformed into a vain invincibility. Someone will someday write a book on how a nation at war with terror somehow embraced the fool-hearty notion that the rules of the economic game no longer applied. Once there were respectable guiding principles like “the generally accepted rules of accounting” and “conflict of interest” and “full disclosure” and “proof of creditworthiness” and “objective appraisals” and “independent audits.”
The guiding proposition that dominated the era: “Greed is good.”
Maybe greed is one of those serious sins after all. Today, we are paying the price for our neglect of those time honored professional standards. And it makes for uncertainty as we face a new year. The market sustained record-smashing declines. Real estate values followed suit. Which came first? Does it matter? Unemployment is on the rise. Manufacturers close plants. Stores, stocked with unsold merchandise post large signs: “Going Out of Business.” Any takers?
The experts tell us that we are too smart to fall into another Great Depression. Whew. But for those of us who review our investment reports, or check the comparative sales down the street, or look at the gross income figures and company stock price, well, there is reason to be concerned.
So what’s a leader to do on a Monday morning like this?
I, for one, am starting this way: I’ve asked myself three questions. First, where is my security, really? Second, am I willing to change? And third, what immutable principles do I affirm?
I’ve been programmed to believe that my security comes from my job, my home and my investments. On this Monday morning, the starting point of another calendar year, it’s time to rethink that assumption.
Maybe the reason I’m confessing that I need to reconsider is simply because that security has been called to question on all counts. Maybe that’s the benefit of economic hard times.
And maybe “security” is a destination to which we never really arrive anyway. At least not in this life.
Unless, perhaps, real security is something else. Like knowing who you are. To whom you belong. Resting in a confidence that comes from somewhere that transcends a world of calculations of net worth and net equity.
Like Psalm 118 where David says, among many other wonderful things –
“His love endures forever.” And –
“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.”
Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2009