Larry Banman: The things that cant be counted are what count
March 10, 2009
The national and international economic malaise we are enduring has caused people to think more introspectively. When times are good, we all tend to get caught up in the accumulation of wealth, of one form or another. When people lose half, or more, of their paper riches, they tend to start looking for answers to some very basic questions.The first reaction to losing so much money is to look for somebody to blame. There is the predictable emotion of anger, when a target can be identified.Its easy to be angry at some corporate CEO who just scored a multi-million dollar bonus. Its easy to be angry at some bank that lost billions through shoddy business practices and is now looking for you and me to bail them out with little or no consequence.Its easy to be angry at our congressmen and women who passed legislation that has turned out to be not so brilliant. Those targets, however, are so distant that our anger often dissipates before there is any resolution. That is when people tend to start looking in the mirror and start to ask themselves questions about the choices they have made.Since the beginning of this economic malaise, which a few people are now calling an economic depression, I have maintained that the answer will not come from new rules and regulations, new laws and particularly not from changing leadership as often as some of us change our shirts. I agree that we do need change, but change is not throwing millions and billions and trillions of dollars at a problem without changing the culture that allowed that problem to develop.On Sunday, I picked up a copy of The International Jerusalem Post at, of all places, the A & W restaurant in Frisco. The well-worn copy had a sticker that asked that the newspaper not leave the restaurant. For that I am grateful. If I had taken the newspaper home, I am afraid that it would have landed in my to-read pile that is already several inches tall.The first thing that struck me was how different the newspaper was from the usual national-level biased (from all sides) news that we have become accustomed to being force-fed in this country. In a publication that I thought would be heavily biased, I found insightful commentary, thought-provoking articles and even some self-effacing satire. It was, to be direct, refreshing. It was also intellectual stimulating, something that also is missing from our national media. If you dont believe me, step back next time from your CNN, NPR, FOX broadcast and ask yourself if you learned anything new or did you just hear more reasons to hate the other side.The most fascinating article was about Bernard L. Madoff, the perpetrator of what may be the largest investor fraud ever committed by a single person. The lead picture was one of Madoffs homes in Florida with the caption, Charity begins at home for Madoff. Your charity, his home. Mostly the article was about how Madoff, a prominent member of the Jewish community, had used his Jewish ties to take millions and millions of dollars from Jewish charitable organizations. Some of those organizations are now, effectively, no longer in existence.The article certainly didnt defend Madoff. However, the tone was also not one of anger and vengeance. A reference was made to the advice of two well-respected rabbis, Gam zu letova, Everything is for the best. What I gathered from that advice is that everything happens for a reason and there are lessons to be learned from any occurrence.What I liked is how the article ended. Despite all of the bad that could be dwelled upon from the Madoff scandal, the writer said that perhaps the lesson to be learned could be summed up by tikkun olam, that we would learn to give for the sake of giving, not for the glory.That, to me, illustrates how we need to re-adjust our way of thinking. To re-adjust how we view life and those with whom we share that experience. There needs to be a fundamental change in Americans at the grassroots level. Call it a return to old-fashioned values or a re-evaluation of priorities.I believe that we need to change how we view life and focus on the things that cant be counted. Because those are the things that count. And that is something that no bailout can secure.