Friday, September 26, 2008

I don't understand

I spend a lot of my time working to understand people--to understand how they see things, what motivates them, how they feel, how our lives overlap. I'm often called to try to understand things that defy understanding: child abuse and addiction and mental illness and the deep places of rage and despair. I try really hard and people tell me I come pretty close. "I feel understood" is one of the greatest compliments a client can pay me.

But this I don't understand: how smart and capable men can knowingly destroy their own country's economy while stuffing their own pockets, how they can continue to gorge on their own obscene excess even after their greed has been exposed, how they seem to have no remorse. I am sick and tired of hearing economists and pundits on the news. I want to see just one CEO or CFO come on TV and tell us his point of view. I just want to hear him describe what this is like for him, how he feels about it now, how he sleeps at night. Does he feel any remorse? What was he thinking? I just want to hear it from him.

Don't get me wrong. Wealth itself is not the evil here; greed is. When someone risks their money in the stock market and it goes their way, they should make money. When someone risks their own capital to start a business or create a product, they should walk away with the gains if their idea works. I have no problem with Bill Gates being the richest guy in the US. But corporate executives are employees hired to do a job. How is it that they walk away with obscene amounts of money--even if they fail? That can only be about a greedy form of cronyism and an insanely inflated sense of self.

What I don't understand most is the lack of concern for the common good. Before I voted for the first time, my father gave me a brief but memorable talk about how important it was to vote for people and policies that would benefit the country, not just those that would benefit me and people like me. So . . . I don't understand.


Em said...

you say here......just exactly what i've been thinking!

Rob said...

I have a theory that many of these people are not intentionally evil, just incompetent. They are very clever failures, but failures nonetheless. The CEO makes a risky decision that causes the company to fail, then the company's board fails to punish the CEO.

Call me naïve, but I don't believe that many people set out to knowingly destroy others purely to benefit themselves. I think most either do it by accident and don't have the strength of character to admit it, or convince themselves that the destruction is not really their fault.

I have no doubt that greed and evil are real and they afflict us all. Incompetence and unwillingness to admit failure are often an adequate explanation for this kind of behavior. Maybe that's just evil in another guise?