Sometimes it’s easy to forget how young America really is. Our nation is so vibrant and full of promise that optimism sometimes hinders a mature grasp of reality. America is the land of the Free and the Brave, the nation in which cowboys ride into the sun speckled range and the Rocky, though bruised and bloodied, always manages to win the sparring match in the end.
It is that irrepressible enthusiasm that gives us the strength to recover in spite of horrifying setbacks and defeats and to will things to go our way even when the deck of cards is stacked against us.
The fact that America has been able to do this so successfully is a testament to her relative youthful vigor amongst the sisterhood of nation states.
When you look at ancient civilizations in Africa, the Middle East and the Far East, you appreciate the fact that a few hundred years is youthful against a backdrop of many centuries.
In some ways we’re like teenagers; not really believing that certain types of mistakes have the capacity to change us on a fundamental level. A teenager may experiment with drugs and sex not realizing that the wrong needle or partner could fundamentally cost him or her their life. Teenagers are young and naive enough to be willing to roll the dice and hope that they can get away with it.
However, the dice of life is unpredictable. And youth rarely calculates the odds of a catastrophe. The recklessness which has precipitated the crisis on Wall Street is a reminder of the fact that our collective actions can have ramifications far beyond our limited perspective. The thing about experience is that it forces you to grow up. A kid who impregnates his girlfriend becomes a father by default…readiness for the responsibility is not the criteria…the ability to have sex is.
In recent years, our ability to access easy and abundantly available credit has been about Availability, not Responsibility. Through every crisis, our country has learned something and we’ll learn some lessons this time too. That’s guaranteed. The real issue is if we’ll learn the lessons which we need to learn to help us to mature and grow up.
Here are 5 Lessons Which I hope that this crisis will force us to grapple with.
1. Using Credit for Disposable Items Never Makes Sense
I’ll never forget the exact moment I saw someone whip out a credit card to pay for a grocery purchase! It was about 15 years ago and prior to that time, most stores in my area only allowed cash or checks. I remember wondering WHY someone would be buying groceries which would be gone in a week with a credit card on which the balance could last for years.
I remember discussing this with an associate who told me that it was merely a matter of convenience; most people would pay off their card at the end of the month and furthermore this action could accrue points to be used towards the gain of free stuff. That was such a crock. Whether it was groceries or meals in a restaurant, the vast majority of us are still paying for meals we ate a long, long, time ago. Meals which have long exited our systems.
2. If you can’t Pay For it…A Credit Card does not change that fact
There’s a type of security which comes with having a plastic magic wand in ones wallet. I didn’t know how strong this power was until I tore up my credit cards in my early twenties. As I prepared to walk out the door, I realized that I was nervous and shaky…I didn’t have the security of my cards. That was a huge wake up call for me and it changed my life. I realized that I had believed a lie in thinking that just because I could charge something meant that I could afford it. So, not true.
3. Creative Accounting does not make a big Fat Zero disappear
Asset valuation became a game of pretense that was so extraordinary that in the last stages of our demise, we began to totally imagine it. Just imagine you make…X Dollars. Just imagine you’re worth X amount. If you say so, we’ll believe you. In fact our bankers started imagining with us and giving us money which we could not prove that we could repay. Imagining things is a great childhood game. Grown ups deal with reality. Less fun, but far safer when it comes to financial well being.
4. Consequences are Real and Don’t go away Quickly
The thing about a Consequence is that it tends to stick around. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if one understands that the reason that Consequences exist is to teach us the Lessons of Life. Since youth tends to gloss over important lessons, the message that Consequences are sent to teach us almost always require time and repetition.
5. Being Mature requires having the Courage to take Responsibility for your Mistakes
This one may be the hardest lesson to swallow. Watching or listening to any news or media right now is to watch the ‘Blame Game’ in full swing. Everybody is blaming someone else and pointing fingers. No one seems willing to take responsibility.
Witness the specter of a government which refuses to focus on solutions for fear of being blamed for taking action. Immaturity plays out in the world of nations in much the same way that it does in our personal life. We ignore stuff that we need to pay attention to, we hope that it goes away, we continue doing things that we know are not healthy and then try to find anyone to blame but ourselves.
The sad truth is that until we come to terms with our actions, we can’t move on; we remain mired in the sticky mess as we wallow in self pity. True Maturity means having the courage to say, ” I was Wrong, I made a mistake and I will do what I need to do to take care of it.” No blame, no finger pointing, no accusing, no hiding…just plain old fashioned transparency.
picture is courtesy of respres photostream on flickr
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