Tuesday, March 15, 2005

with “Win at any cost” – just what is the cost?

People on steroids.

The phrase conjures up a whole array of images. But the truth is simple and direct. When athletes want to win, they work hard, they lift weights, run extra laps, watch their diets… They do everything they can – and then, to take it that one step further, some of them inject themselves with a substance to give them that extra advantage.

They want to be faster, quicker, stronger. Stronger than they are without steroids; and definitely stronger than their opponents.

What about the long term effects; the side effects; the “fairness” of the approach? What about it? The goal is to win, and if you can’t win without the help (or, if you can only barely win without the help), then the risk is worth taking. Because the goal is to win at any cost. Winning is what counts. Winning is all that counts. The price tag – the long term effects – are not as important.

This is at the heart of the steroids controversy. But it also pictures a much larger societal dilemma. What happens to a civilization where “winning at any cost” becomes the dominant ethic of the day?

This is, pure and simple, the story of Enron, and other ethical collapses in the business world. People take that extra step to gain that extra advantage, regardless of the consequences. “The end justifies the means.” Going a little too far, bending rules, ignoring rules, breaking rules, are all worth the cost. Because the only thing that matters is to win.

Is this the ethic of the current political operatives in the Bush administration, and his allies?

Consider this: we see this decision from the White House (as reported by the Washington Post):
"The White House, intent on continuing to crank out 'video news releases' that look like television news stories, has told government agency heads to ignore a Government Accountability Office memo criticizing the practice as illegal propaganda."

If the Government Accountability Office calls something illegal, but the Bush White House wants to use the method (of government generated video reports), then, regardless of the appearance of impropriety, in spite of the judgment that the act is illegal, and ignoring any consequences, this White House will use the “steroids” of fake news reports.

Win at any cost. When winning is the goal, a lot of wrong, dangerous, unfair, even illegal practices become the order of the day.

With some of the Enrons, the truth seems to come out, and a price will have to be paid. But not always.

I wonder what this ethic will ultimately cost us all?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

(today’s point: values whiplash in Dallas)

Why are we so set on praising ourselves for our goodness?

Is this some kind of self-esteem need? Have we so deeply bought into the idea that we have to feel so good about ourselves that we then have to hide or deny or lie about or ignore our failures?

Here is a little secret: we have failures. We have failures of behavior, failures of will, failures of ideas. And some of these failures spread more failure far and wide.

But – if we can’t admit to our failures, than we end up on this fantasy ride about how great we are.

Take a few experiences/impressions this past week.

On Monday, I spoke to the staff of Central Dallas Ministries, giving a synopsis of the “look at where we are really, really messing up” book by David Shipler called The Working Poor. It is impossible to read this book and think that there are not specific things we can all do, right now, to make a difference.

And part of what needs to be done right now is to be done “together” – in other words, by the government, which is us – (remember: of the people, by the people, for the people – well, we are those people).

Then, on Wednesday, I went to the “Get Motivated Seminar.” Zig Ziglar and Rudolph Giuliani and George Foreman and Jerry Lewis and General Tommy Franks all spoke, along with a few men selling their infomercial-like get rich cd’s and plans. Here was the message of the day: you are such great people to be at this seminar today. And, believe in Jesus, love America, and be sure to get rich along the way.

One guy actually asked: “what would you do if you had all this extra money?” and then flashed pictures of a new fancy car and a huge house.

There was a twenty minute altar call (“believe in Jesus, go out to the lobby, sign this commitment card, get a free cd.”) But, except for the real estate sales guy selling his plan (“today only for $99.00”) to help everyone buy property, including his garbage collector, there was no hint that we could make more money for the purpose of being better able to help people in need.

Late that evening, I settled in for Nightline, and saw an interview and profile of Angelina Jolie, who has given $3 million of her own dollars to help the poor. She is now a very serious U. N. spokesperson on the plight of poor children. And she spoke so simply, so eloquently, on the difference it would make if the U. S. just raised our international giving to the level we have promised. When asked what she would ask President Bush if she could meet with him, she said, simply: “I would ask for the money.”

And then, Thursday morning, I heard David Shipler, the guy who wrote The Working Poor. He spoke of tangible problems among the poor, like a growing asthma epidemic, and a constellation of other problems. He then asked his audience: “would you all be willing to pay higher taxes to help the working poor?" Every hand went up. And he observed that he gets the same response every place he speaks. But that that word never seems to get to Washington.

But that crowd of a few hundred seemed to be made up of a different audience than the 20,000 or so at the “Get Motivated Seminar.” And I ended the week with values whiplash – wondering how we can even have conversations across this great and growing divide.

I know this – I would like to make more money. But I would also like the people at the “Get Motivated Seminar” to read The Working Poor in between listening to the cd’s about how to get richer. And I would like all of us to do our part to influence/persuade/cajole/insist that our government finds the money to help the people in need.

And maybe at the next seminar, when they show their pictures of fancy cars and beautiful homes, they could at least flash some pictures up of kids in refugee camps when they ask “what would you do if you made all this extra money?”

Friday, March 11, 2005

Occasional markings -- in the beginning

It has been about thirty years since I first read Dag Hammarskjold’s Markings. Through my ministry career, I frequently referred back to his musings. I even named our church newsletter/bulletin "Markings." Every sermon, every spoken word, every experience has the power to leave a mark on someone’s heart.

As a speaker and student of rhetoric, I learned the power of the occasion, and I also learned the need to speak to such occasions.

So -- here it is. A little late, with a tentative computer literacy, I launch “Occasional Markings” into the blog world. I will speak, when the occasion beckons, with the written word.

What shall I say? Hopefully, I will say the truth. But, like all truth, in a world of competing stories, it will be the truth as I see it. Some news story, some personal experience, will generate feelings of hope, or anger, and I will mark the moment with a thought or two.

Will an audience arise?