A Crisis is a Terrible Thing to Waste

I have been in Panama for the past two weeks. It is strange watching what is going on the U.S. and the world so far away from my home. It’s not that I’m concerned about losing my assets. At times like this, I most miss hugs with my loved ones and huddles with my friends.

I recently heard a minister on the radio talking about the state of the world. He said we were not just facing a financial crisis; we are also facing a spiritual crisis. Somehow the values of freedom and democracy had been blown out of proportion, overshadowing our values of community and the common good. Individualism bred selfishness and short-termism, leaving us drowning in a sea of greed.

So how does the brain play into this? If humans are basically social animals, wouldn’t most of us put “good before greed?”

Unfortunately, before the social brain is activated, all perception travels first through the primitive brain. We react to threat and reward. We must first protect ourselves, our livelihood and our families (reflected in the panic on Wall Street). And when we feel safe, we seek what makes us feel good.

THE SITUATION: When money became the major form of wealth for everyone, it served to divide instead of connect us. When we elevated individual gain and free markets to a higher moral status than community responsibility, we branded ourselves as “rugged individualists” and played into a philosophy that states, “The driving force of business is to make as much money as possible for the owners/shareholders.” This is the credo for most of our corporations. It is what suffocates the spirit and drains the creativity of our workers. And I believe it is the reason Wall Street is crashing. At the core of our economic crisis is a spiritual crisis that began at least one hundred years ago.

I am not a socialist. I am a person who deeply loves the country that took in my grandparents as immigrants and provided them the opportunities to start and grow a business and a family. Yet when I watch people screaming at Senator McCain for not crushing “the morons” (democrats) and both parties hating and distrusting the other, I’m saddened by what we have become. This is way too tribal and primal for the most progressive country in the world (or so I thought). I am missing my hugs even more.

So now, in addition to the pollution, hazardous waste and global climate change problems, we have burdened future generations with our financial sins (and bailouts and rescue plans). As taxpayers and workers, what can we do? Where do we go from here?

THE TRUTH: Gerald M. Weinberg said, “Crisis indicates the end of an illusion.”We are now seeing the illusions behind our money, the free market place, and rugged individualism.

THE POSSIBILITY: Instead of fear and depression, maybe we should feel hope for the return of community, public service and good intent. Maybe we can begin to see love and peace as the real wealth of nations, and that we can be educated, healthy citizens that live comfortably in productive eco-systems on our planet. Is this an illusion too? I hope not.

BRAIN TIP: Fortunately, a crisis is a terrible thing to waste! Our brains love status quo so much, that it generally takes a crisis to make the changes we sensed we needed to make long ago (Gary Hamel said, “A turnaround is a transformation past due.”). Crisis can drive the emergence of new ideas, structures and ways of being with each other. Yet we are the ones that must create this; we shouldn’t be waiting for our governments to mold our world.

As humans, we have the ability to vision our future. We can quiet our primal, reactionary brain if we choose. We can imagine our future together, and then work together to create it, one community, one business, one family at a time.

What would you like to see rise from the ashes of this meltdown? Please email what your vision of a new world could be. I would love for the readers of my Brain Tips to be the leaders of the blossoming New World.



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