Right now, the majority of Americans are worried. Will I still have a job next month? Will I be able to afford health care next year? How will I ever be able to send my kids to college? What chances do I have of ever retiring? Can I make my mortgage payment?
These are the questions most of us are asking ourselves, when we're not busy pointing the finger of blame, that is. While it's fair to say that blaming won't fix anything, there is something about the ability to lay blame on someone, someone other than ourselves of course, that is comforting.
You will probably agree that our time would be better spent on more important things, like keeping our resume's up-to-date or cutting coupons. But if the compulsion to blame cannot be denied, we at least need to make sure we are pointing the finger in the correct direction.
It's so easy to find fault. The Republicans blame the Democrats, the Democrats blame the Republicans, we all blame George W. Bush. CEO's blame government regulations, legislators blame greedy CEO's. Banks blame borrowers, the borrowers blame the lenders. When all else fails, we look to our neighbors and co-workers and we turn on each other. Our anger and our feelings of helplessness can lead us to assign blame pretty randomly when it comes right down to it.
A recent example of this comes to mind. My husband works for a company that has been attempting to squeeze blood form a stone for years when it comes to their employees. Every year, there is more work, longer hours and
fewer benefits. An average performance rating - "Meets Expectations" - is given when an employee works 60-plus hours a week, is unofficially on call 24/7 and handles the responsibilities that, once-upon-a-time, were handled by two or three employees - because those are the "expectations." More and more of the company's jobs are being out-sourced to India and more and more American's are being laid off.
The company holds "diversity trainings" in an effort to help the American employees and their new Indian co-workers to get along. It turns out that, not surprisingly, there is some resentment here and there, not because of cultural differences, but because the American workers are losing their jobs and the Indian workers are getting them. Well, who is to blame for the job losses of the American workers - the Indians? Some would say "yes, these people are stealing our jobs!" but are the Indian people really to blame? Or, is it the greed of corporate CEO's and shareholders . . .or the corporate culture that induces management to dehumanize the work environment in an effort to reduce costs and expand profits and to focus on short-term gains at the expense of long-term viability . . . or the free-wheeling capitalism that has led to a complete abandonment of the concept of social responsibility?
Blaming the Indians is convenient. The Indian people, the illegal Mexican immigrants and others are easy targets when we feel so helpless and hopeless. But are we justified in blaming these people who, like us, want to give their families the best lives they can but who, unlike us, haven't enjoyed the opportunities that we Americans have begun to take for granted? Do we really expect them to refuse to take a job that will help to lift them out of the dire poverty in which they have existed for generations, just because it might reduce the standard of living of someone who has so much more than they could ever dream of having? I don't think so. But I do think that coming to that conclusion requires a little more thought than most people who are currently getting a pink slip or a foreclosure notice are willing to invest.
I also think that, as difficult as it may be, we need to try. There is nothing worse than misdirected blame. It's the tiny seed that grows into hatred and blooms in violence. So let's keep our fingers to ourselves for a while and look at the bigger picture. Our current financial crisis was not created by poor people seeking a better life. The situation is which we find ourselves is a factor of our very way of life. Unregulated, free market capitalism; unbridled consumerism; corrupt politics; and moral bankruptcy are just a few of the issues that readily come to mind. The answer is not socialism or theocracy. There is nothing wrong with capitalism - provided that it benefits from a few regulatory checks and balances. There is nothing wrong with progress and achievement - provided they are balanced with some degree of social responsibility. But this is no longer what we have here in America. We've gone off the deep-end. Every man for himself! Hooray for me and to hell with you! The trickle down theory of economics, while making sense on paper, has proved many times over that it is inherently flawed. Why? Because, quite simply, it fails to account for one very important human failing - greed.
No one likes to see the good in people more than I do, and while I maintain my belief that people are inherently good, I recognize that we are also capable of evil. Our life experiences can bring out the best or the worst in us. That's why we have laws, that's why we hire police officers, that's why we have government regulations. We all recognize the need to keep an eye on our own behavior as well as the behavior of others. Why would we expect that the government or corporate America doesn't need the same oversight? What makes it so easy to blame the little guy trying to make a buck and so hard to see the bigger picture?
Well, we created the bigger picture, didn't we? We created our governmental and corporate structures, we elected our officials and promoted our CEO's. We created our great society based on our highest ideals, but after a while we forgot about the checks and balances. We forgot that these institutions are run by human beings much like ourselves, inherently good but sometimes bad. We put our faith in our beautiful creation and now, to stand back and take an honest look at it, to admit that it is in some ways flawed, to accept that it is imperfect and in need of some adjustment, is to see an unflattering reflection of ourselves. This is the country and the economy and the culture that we have built. To recognize it's failings is to admit to our own.
But we are all to blame in one way or another. We mean well. We are simply trying to do the best we can for ourselves and our families. But we make mistakes. We fall prey to common human failings - fear, envy, greed and others. Some of us have lived well beyond our means, racking up enormous debt as we purchased homes, cars and clothes that we couldn't really afford. Some have scrambled our way to the top, caring little for those we have kicked aside in the process. We have hoarded more than our fair share while others starve, neglected to protect the environment that supports us, forgotten the truth that no man is an island unto himself. We have voted divisive and dishonest politicians into office and turned a blind-eye to their underhanded ways, until we ourselves became directly affected. We have sequestered ourselves within various self-serving groups and clubs and forgotten our membership in the human race. There is plenty of blame to go around and plenty of places to lay it - including our own laps - if we are willing to take a long, hard and honest look at it. But are we willing?
Hmmm. Perhaps there is a good reason for laying blame after all. The only way to fix a problem is to accurately identify it's root cause and the only way to do that is to be willing to take an honest look at each and every contributing factor, no matter how painful that might be.
May we all have the strength to do so before we point the finger.