Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, And Your Street

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9781442305090: Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, And Your Street
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When we start with the wrong question, no matter how good an answer we get, it won't give us the results we want. Rather than joining the throngs who are asking, When will this economic crisis be over? Jim Wallis says the right question to ask is How will this crisis change us? The worst thing we can do now, Wallis tells us, is to go back to normal. Normal is what got us into this situation. We need a new normal, and this economic crisis is an invitation to discover what that means. Some of the principles Wallis unpacks for our new normal are . . .• Spending money we don't have for things we don't need is a bad foundation for an economy or a family.• It's time to stop keeping up with the Joneses and start making sure the Joneses are okay.• The values of commercials and billboards are not the things we want to teach our children.• Care for the poor is not just a moral duty but is critical for the common good.• A healthy society is a balanced society in which markets, the government, and our communities all play a role.• The operating principle of God's economy says that there is enough if we share it.• And much, much more . . .In the pages of this book, Wallis provides us with a moral compass for this new economy--one that will guide us on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street.Embracing a New Economy Getting back to "the way things were" is not an option. It is time we take our economic uncertainty and use it to find some moral clarity. Too often we have been ruled by the maxims that greed is good, it's all about me, and I want it now. Those can be challenged only with some of our oldest and best values--enough is enough, we are in it together, and thinking not just for tomorrow but for future generations. Jim Wallis shows that the solution to our problems will be found only as individuals, families, friends, churches, mosques, synagogues, and entire communities wrestle with the question of values together.

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About the Author:

Jim Wallis is a bestselling author, public theologian, speaker, preacher, and international commentator on religion, public life, faith, and politics. He is president and CEO of Sojourners, where he is editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine. He regularly appears on radio and television, including shows like Meet the Press, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, the O'Reilly Factor, and is a frequent guest on the news programs of CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, and National Public Radio. He has taught at Harvard's Divinity School and Kennedy School of Government on Faith, Politics, and Society. He has written eight books, including: Faith Works, The Soul of Politics, Who Speaks for God? and The Call to Conversion.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION

ASKING THE WRONG QUESTIONS

The 2008–2009 economic crisis presents us with an enormous opportunity: to rediscover our values—as people, as families, as communities of faith, and as a nation. It is a moment of decision we dare not pass by. We have forgotten some very important things, and it’s time to remember them again. Yes, we do need an economic recovery, but we also need a moral recovery—on Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street. And we will need a moral compass for the new economy that is emerging. That’s what this book is all about.

The Great Recession that has gripped the world, defined the moment, and captured all of our attention has also revealed a profound values crisis. Just beneath the surface of the economic debate, a deep national reflection is begging to take place and, indeed, has already begun in people’s heads, hearts, and conversations. The questions it raises are about our personal, family, and national priorities; about our habits of the heart, about our measures of success, about the values of our families and our children, about our spiritual well-being, and about the ultimate goals and purposes of life—including our economic life.

Underneath the public discourse, another conversation is emerging about who and what we want to be—as individuals, as a nation, and as a human community. By and large, the media has missed the deeper discussion and continues to focus only upon the surface of the crisis. And most of our politicians just want to tell us how soon the crisis could be over. But there are deeper questions here and some fundamental choices to make. That’s why this could be a transformational moment, one of those times that comes around only very occasionally. We don’t want to miss this opportunity.

THE WRONG QUESTIONS Note

OUR CURRENT ECONOMIC CRISIS PRESENTS US WITH ONE OF THOSE TIMES THAT COMES AROUND ONLY VERY OCCASIONALLY. WE DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS OPPORTUNITY.

For some time now, we’ve been asking the wrong questions. Television, magazines, and our whole popular culture, in ad after ad, have asked us: What’s the fastest way to make money? How do you beat your coworker for the next promotion? Is your house bigger than your neighbor’s? Are you keeping up with the Joneses? What do you need to buy next that will truly make you happy? What is wrong with you, and how could you change that? What should you protect yourself from?

Advertising has preyed upon two of our deepest human emotions, greed and fear—what do you want and what are you afraid of? Sometimes the ads answered questions we hadn’t even thought to ask, about the whiteness of our teeth and the style of our clothes, but once we saw the answers they gave us, we began asking the same questions.

This book came out of some conversations I had almost a year ago. In January 2009, I was invited to participate in the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Every morning, during that annual gathering of the world’s economic and political elites, CNN interviewed a bundled-up CEO with the dramatic, snowy “Magic Mountain” of Davos in the background. It was always the same reporter, and the question was always the same: “When will this crisis be over?” CNN actually had a whiteboard, on which each CEO would write his or her answer predicting when the economic crisis would finally end: 2009 ... 2010 ... 2011 ... later. All the delegates to the World Economic Forum woke up every morning in their hotel rooms to that CNN discussion.

But on an unusual plenary panel at Davos titled “The Values Behind Market Capitalism,” I suggested that CNN was asking the wrong question. Of course, we all want to know when the crisis will end. But, I challenged the audience of CEOs and heads of state, the much more important question is, “How will this crisis change us?” How will it change the ways we think, act, and decide things; how we prioritize and value our success, how we do business, and how we live our lives? Yes, this is a structural crisis that clearly calls for new social regulation. But it is also a spiritual crisis that calls for new self-regulation. We seem to have lost some things, and forgotten some basics—like our oldest and best values.

Note

I SUGGESTED THAT CNN WAS ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION.

MISPLACED TRUST

We have trusted in the “invisible hand” of the market to make everything turn out all right, and we have believed that it wasn’t necessary for us to bring virtue to bear on our decisions. But things haven’t turned out all right, and the invisible hand has let go of some crucial ideals—like “the common good.” The common good hasn’t been very common in our economic decision making for some time now. And the situation has spun out of control.

I recited Gandhi’s Seven Deadly Social Sins to the world’s business leaders, because they seemed an accurate diagnostic for the causes of this crisis. The social sins that Gandhi used to instruct his young disciples in his ashram were:

  1. Politics without principle

  2. Wealth without work

  3. Commerce without morality

  4. Pleasure without conscience

  5. Education without character

  6. Science without humanity

  7. Worship without sacrifice

For days after the Davos “values panel,” participants would come up to me, pen and paper in hand, to make sure they got them right.

There were other sessions at Davos on these subjects, as there always are. One was called “Helping Others in a Post-Crisis World.” It was full of the insights of social entrepreneurs and innovative philanthropists, all discussing new patterns of social enterprise—where capitalism is again in service of big ideas and big solutions, not just making money. But the session was held early in the morning in a small room, not the big Congress Hall. And it wasn’t full. New ideas of business with a social purpose have been part of Davos before, but as in the global economy, social conscience has been a sidebar to business. Social purposes were somehow extracurricular to real business. But this year, the sidebar hit the main hall of discussion as a plenary discussion on values, and went to the center of the way participants were talking about how we do business.

When you start with the wrong question, no matter how good an answer you get, it won’t matter very much. There was a shift that occurred throughout the week that you might not have seen in the television coverage, as participants began to ask a very different question: “How will this crisis change us?”

If our goal is to get back to business as usual, we will soon be right back to what got us into so much trouble, because what was usual is exactly what got us here in the first place. To go back to business as usual would be to miss the opportunity this crisis provides to change our ways and return to some of our oldest and best values.

Note

WHEN YOU START WITH THE WRONG QUESTION, NO MATTER HOW GOOD AN ANSWER YOU GET, IT WON’T MATTER VERY MUCH.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair, who was also on the values panel, told me afterward that were it not for this deep crisis, Davos wouldn’t be having such a discussion and wouldn’t have included “somebody like you” (a religious leader). But the panel discussion on values became the buzz of the conference. And the spiritual conversations (sometimes quite pastoral and almost confessional) that followed over the course of the next few days were, for me, a real sign of hope.

The economic tide going out has not only shown us who was “swimming naked,” as Warren Buffett put it, but it has also revealed that no invisible hand is behind the curtain guiding our economy to inevitable success. It is a sobering moment in our lives when we can see our own thoughtlessness, greed, and impatience writ large across the global sky. With some of the world’s brightest minds, boldest leaders, and most innovative entrepreneurs gathered at one Swiss retreat, it seemed like a good place to start asking better questions.

THE RIGHT QUESTION

This book is intended to help us do just that—to ask the right question. Again, if we start with the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how good our answer is, we’ll always end up in the wrong place. If we only ask how to get back to the place we were before this crisis began, we will miss the opportunity to stop walking in circles and start moving forward.

As I said, the worst thing we could do now is go back to normal. Our normal was, indeed, what got us into this crisis, and going back to it will just repeat the crisis over and over again. We need a “new normal,” and the economic crisis is an invitation to discover it.

Note

THE WORST THING WE COULD DO NOW IS GO BACK TO NORMAL.

So the question that underlies this book is a simple but hard one: “How will this crisis change us?” The answer isn’t going to be found in reading the newest economic analysis, hoping for better indicators, following a political ideology, or even updating the economy. It will be found as individuals, families, friends, small groups, churches, mosques, synagogues, and entire communities wrestle with the question of values together.

We need to find ...

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