Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Economy, Humility, and Another Fine Mess

How does humility play in our world today? I mean, it’s certainly not the latest fad or anything. In fact, it feels like those who have humbled themselves and thought of others first and been servants of others are actually suffering quite a bit these days – losing jobs, losing retirement funds, caught in bad mortgages – its all under the umbrella of “the economy.”

While unfathomable greed has led a relatively few unscrupulous people to do things for their own sakes that impact others in horrible ways without a second thought, just about everyone else has just been trying to live life, make a living, feed a family, enjoy a bit of comfort, simply be who they are. I’m not being naïve about this, though. I get it; a lot of people had to make a lot of bad decisions in order to land our economy in the state it is in now.

But neither am I going to over-simplify things by thinking that people finding themselves in financial trouble have only themselves to blame for it. The truth is, 95% of us don’t understand enough about “the economy” to even ask intelligent questions about it. And so, in order to avoid getting stuck in figuring out who is to blame for the situation, the question becomes: What shall we do next?

And in that sense, humility has an enormous role to play. If we take seriously the words of Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves,” then the Christian response to this financial crisis must be shaped by service, not judgment.

I know that a lot of people are angry at the people who “got us into this mess.” That’s okay, we can be angry as long as we don’t sin because of it, allowing the anger to fester (Ephesians 4:26). The anger isn’t bad, but if we hold onto it, we get ourselves into trouble. Humility is the very thing that unlocks this anger and allows us to move on.

Erin and I were talking at lunch today, and she mentioned how during the Great Depression people would prepare extra food at dinnertime when they could, anticipating that hungry people might knock on their doors asking for a bite or two. That would never happen today, which is really sad when you think about it. Suspicion and fear would prevent that level of humility and service in most homes.

I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see humility and servanthood from Washington D.C. or Wall Street. Corporate executives are not going to turn suddenly altruistic, putting the needs of others ahead of their own. So that’s up to you and me, average everyday people out here living our lives in the best way we know how.

We have got to help each other through this, without judgment or blame, looking not to our own needs but to the needs of others. At this point, it really doesn’t matter how “they” got into this mess; there is a mess, and so let’s get busy cleaning it up. A bit of humility, a little service, a little self-emptying here and there will go a long, long way toward making things better for everyone.


Larry B said...

I read Hayek's book "The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism".

One of my biggest takeaways from the book was that any market economy can really only successfully operate if it's actors are moral and the key component is trust.

What's happened recently has caused me (and I think a few others) to realize that the key element of trust is now missing.

Your suggestion that we begin by starting with humility is of course excellent spiritual advice, but I think also will help to rebuild the trust that has been lost.

Anonymous said...

Year's (lots of them)ago, Ethics was a required course in degree programs, at least in the colleges I was considering. I retuned to college in the late 90's in pursuit of a Master's degree (lots of years after my first college experience). No ethics exposure anywhere - not even an elective option.
I wonder - is this a piece of the problem puzzle?
There certainly is plenty of blame to go around with this mess. And it will take a banning together to get it fixed. To fix, we must first get to the core of the problem.

I pray that we have the patience to maintain humility, generous hearts, and kind spirits as we work through this mess.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps we should have never, ever let them take God out of the schools, public places, government offices etc. for fear of offending someone. Perhaps, we should have stood up in HUGE numbers to defend our faith. Perhaps we are whining about something we have done to ourselves. When will we become BOLD in our faith? How far do we have to fall, how much do we have to lose? or How much do we have left to lose?

Kyleinkc said...

I would say perhaps we should have never fled to the suburbs due to fear of people not like us. If people had stayed in the cities and worked together with the PTA and teachers many of are current issues would not be as severe. I think it has a lot less to do with prayer being taken out of the school and much more to do with Christians checking out of the schools.

Anonymous said...

I watched some of the congressional hearings last week, when AIG executive Edward Liddy was testifying. I was highly impressed by his humility, professionalism, sincerity and clarity. I am also impressed by the responsibility displayed by many AIG execs in returning or donating bonuses, or, in the case of Mr. Liddy, returning to work from retirement to help solve the problems at the annual salary of $1.00. While facets of the economic conundrum can be debated ad nauseum, in my opinion, these practices are admirable.
- JudyCS