On September 7, 1851, Thoreau wrote in his journal, “Nothing is so much to be feared as fear.” He might have read a line in a 16th century essay by the French philosopher, de Montaigne: “The thing I fear most is fear.” Franklin Roosevelt popularized the admonition in his First Inaugural Address, on March 4, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Now we are in the midst of an economic crisis, much of it exacerbated by fear, and it continues to be fed by fear.
The Chinese ideogram for the word crisis is the combination of two other word symbols, imposed on one another: danger, and opportunity. Danger imposes opportunity onto us. It forces us to pay attention.
Yes, it is a dangerous time. Every day the financial Frankenstein takes another one of those big, bold, booming steps toward our savings, retirement fund, and home equity. His long arms are stretched out in front of him and we cry, “Help!”
I use the Frankenstein metaphor because it’s a man-made monster, not ‘an act of God.’
We now know that the fox was put in charge of the hen house, inventing things like derivatives on which to gorge himself to please his endless appetite for ‘more.’ Warren Buffett called derivatives ‘weapons of financial mass destruction.’
The system has been wounded. Pressure has been applied to the bleeding area – the physicians have order transfusions, the latest is the $700 billion bail out package. A pint or so will be donated by each of us. But the system will survive. The crisis will be turned into an opportunity, not only in terms of our financial health, but it is forcing all of us to look again at what’s important in life – to review our values, to be reminded of the power of love.
Radical surgery requires a long recovery period. Things won’t get fixed overnight, but we must have faith in the process. We will endure. Some will suffer more than others. It’s often the more innocent among us who suffer the most, while those directly responsible for the meltdown walk away wealthy.
Our economic system is repairable. It will survive. The economy is like a person, embarrassed, now, by foolish and foolhardy mistakes, but learning from them. We will endure.
That’s a faith statement, summarized nicely by Carl Sagan’s protagonist in his science fiction novel, Contact: “I had an experience I can’t prove. I can’t even explain it, but everything that I know as a human being, everything that I am tells me that it was real. I was part of something wonderful, something that changed me forever; a vision of the Universe that tells us undeniably how tiny, and insignificant, and how rare and precious we all are. A vision that tells us we belong to something that is greater than ourselves. That we are not, that none of us, are alone.”
Winston Churchill summed it up: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” May we find the courage and build the faith we need together.