Do you remember the last disaster movie you viewed? As buildings tumbled, did society turn into chaos when people looked to self-preservation above societal good? In this typical movie, were stores looted, innocents trampled or shot, and did the government violently seek to regain control?
Do you believe these representations to be the repercussions of lawlessness? Or, is the government so crucial to human functioning that when catastrophe strikes, and government loses its grip on authority, and all hell breaks loose?
A Paradise Built in Hell
I recently read a book by Rebecca Solnit titled, A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities that Arise in Disaster. For her main thesis, Solnit argues that the disaster clichés flashing on the silver screen have no bearing on reality. Researching the stories of a wide variety of people over the disasters of the last century, Solnit concludes that the overall mentality of a society in response to catastrophe is to work together collectively for survival.
Of course, utopia does not spring from the ashes of a disaster; people can and do act selfishly. However, Solnit also notes that the response of those in authority during disaster is typically an overreaction. For example, looting is an obvious occurrence in the wake of a calamity. However, stealing possessions for profit and taking goods for basic survival carry completely different ramifications. Too often, leaders use excessive force in keeping looters at bay when a majority of the “looters” just need basic, life sustaining supplies.
Whether by sharing resources, administering medical treatment, or sacrificing safety for the sake of a stranger, most caught in a disaster work together.
What about Economic Disasters?
Given this counterintuitive observation, could a communal ethic help our approach to economic catastrophe? With the United States’ recent credit downgrade, and depressing economic outlook, it might be a good time to apply some of Solnit’s observations to the process of economic rebuilding.
Could our national government put politics aside long enough to respond to our economic challenges in ways that invite a spirit of cooperation amidst the chaos? Unfortunately, in all the partisan fighting, one refrain from Washington D.C. seems to be that Democrats’ and Republicans’ first goal is not to solve an issue for the benefit of society but to ensure the appearance of conservative or liberal values on a bill.
Moreover, representatives often work not for the good of the whole but for their specific regions and corporate donors. Too often, proposed bills resemble the needs of a select few instead of the many.
With Derek Thompson of The Atlantic suggesting that the current events in America and Europe point toward a no-end-in-sight recession, it might be time to assert that we face the kind of long-term economic uncertainty that warrants a calamity-type response. In the aftermath of 9/11, the United States encountered a period of unprecedented unity — an excellent example of community arising in disaster. Could we harness the same sense of shared mission today to solve our financial and economic woes? Is it possible for a nation to adopt the sense of urgency that comes from a catastrophe mindset without invoking total chaos?
Luckily, at the very worst, Rebecca Solnit reminds us that as a collective, we are more than capable of surviving, and eventually flourishing in the wake of a disaster, even one in the self-imposed, economic form.
Donovan Richards is the research assistant for the Center for Integrity in Business.
We all want to grab the attention of someone we hope to impress, and we’re tempted to do just about anything to be noticed. Remember Elle Wood’s pink and scented resume in Legally Blonde? She is not alone; officious employees have tried a myriad of attention grabbing techniques over the decades.
With a new crop of fresh graduates submitting resumes on the open market, Michael Margolis at the 99% suggests in a recent article entitled, “The Resume Is Dead, The Bio is King” that job applicants should reconsider submitting a weighty resume in an effort to impress. Instead, a well-crafted narrative will do a better job of piquing the interest of potential business associates.
On the surface, the reason for the shift in viewpoint seems simple: thumbing through a large stack of resumes can be a daunting and mind-numbing task for potential employers. A captivating bio can break the monotony of an endless sea of self-reported accomplishments, former employers, and schools attended.
Richard Nelson Bolles in What Color is Your Parachute writes, “an employer is going through a whole stack of resumes, and on average he or she is giving each resume about eight seconds of their time… Then that resume goes either into a pile we might call ‘Forgeddit,’ or a pile we might call ‘Bears further investigation’” (73).
The bio, as Margolis suggests, has a greater chance of ending up in the second pile because it helps the employer distinguish who one really is beyond a tedious list of deeds done.
But the bio, apart from offering a release from the monotony of reviewing resumes, has a deeper influence: the human psyche seems predisposed to story. From an early age, we are drawn to the hero or heroine, enraptured by the ensuing conflict or struggle that inevitably comes, and renewed by a character’s victory or hope of redemption. As children, stories ignite our imagination when protagonists battle dragons and slyly outwit venomous villains. In The Uses of Enchantment, Bruno Bettelheim writes, “Like all great art, fairy tales both delight and instruct; their special genius is that they do so in terms which speak directly to children” (53). And we might add, adults, too. We never lose our appetite for a good story.
And herein lies our point: story transforms who we are as human beings. We’re shaped by it, and we shape it. When we tell our story (or attend to the story of another), we wake up and experience more of life. Story, like few other experiences, stirs passions and remembrances of days foregone, and reminds us that pain from failure and disillusionment from broken promises can bring growth. Through story we become more human.
In A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller asserts, “I’ve wondered, though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don’t want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement. We don’t want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage. And if life isn’t remarkable, then we don’t have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants” (59).
Yes, in today’s limping economy a bio might increase your prospects of landing a job, which is good news for the job seekers out there. But maybe you should write your bio with a desire to become more integrated, as well as connected to the world around you. Drafting a resume is safe; penning your story and sharing it with others requires risk and fortitude. In a slowly recovering economy, let’s take time to look inward, outward, and upward. It is these postures of learning and our capacity to intuit self and the larger world that makes one truly desirable in organizational life.
John Terrill is the director of the Center for Integrity in Business.
Donovan Richards is the research assistant for the Center for Integrity in Business.
Living within walking distance of the boyhood homes of both billionaire Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen – and within a city, Seattle, that is often said to have one of the largest millionaire populations in the country – extreme wealth is something that charms me daily. So, when the Atlantic recently published a provocative article entitled “Secret Fears of the Super-Rich,” I couldn’t help but peek into the dark side of the American dream.
Based on findings from a study conducted at Boston College, readers are given an inside look at some of the deep anxieties and eccentric problems of the enviably wealthy. Those who answered the survey (they possess an average net worth of $78 million) confess they have to worry about how money alters their relationships (“How many people we know would cut us off if they didn’t think they could get something from us?”) and about passing along an inheritance to their children that is either too large (undermine achievement) or too small (create resentment). Many also live estranged lives (robbed of the social interaction offered by work) and have few friends outside of their super-rich circles (no one else can empathize with their anxieties). Despite having millions, a feeling of true security still eludes them.
I read the article with a blend of voyeuristic curiosity and righteous indignation. But then it occurred to me that these findings might have implications for those of us who are only relatively super rich (that would be the vast majority of us living in North America). Although my level of wealth is far from those included in the study, I too have an odd relationship with money. Why is it that I am among the wealthy elite (by global standards), yet I spend more time thinking about my wants than others’ needs? How is it that while I willingly earn much less than I could (serving in Christian versus secular academia or back in private industry), I catch myself grumbling about my raise every year? And, although I have deep worries about spoiling my children to the extent of taking measures to make sure they earn their weekly allowance, they, like all their friends, need an entire toy basement to contain their amusements.
Don’t get me wrong. Giving is a regular practice in our family and we make awareness of suffering in the world a point of pride. But, let’s face it, our sacrifices aren’t all that deep. Similar to the insatiable appetites of those in the very top echelon, we too find ourselves perpetually short of the illusive destination called “Enough.” Neither do we have very many friends outside our socioeconomic strata. Turns out we non-super rich have our secret fears (and real issues) too.
In light of the typical adulation of wealth that runneth over in our culture, the not too surprising conclusion of the Atlantic article that the richest of the rich shouldn’t be envied is refreshing. However, little is offered in terms of a way to even partially escape our own trappings. Thankfully, Christ gave many insights about the means to attaining a life of true abundance: to find our lives, we must paradoxical give them away; earthly treasure cannot come close to measuring our true net worth; wealth can easily become the object of our true allegiance.
The emerging field of positive psychology (“the science of happiness”) seems to offer some scientific affirmation of these truths. Not too far beyond the point of meeting our basic needs (far south of super rich), money cannot fulfill our deeper needs. Engaging in acts of gratitude, serving others and finding work (if we can) that is done more for its own sake (a calling) than for money or advancement (a career) are some of the newly discovered keys to flourishing.
The parts of my relationship with money that I dare call healthier sure seem to be products of corollary practices: Devaluing wealth by regularly giving it (and time) away; honoring a Sabbath mindset as a reminder that there is more to life than material pursuits; and actively participating in a “community of resistance” that embodies an alternative story and seeks to serve the vulnerable rather than to emulate the powerful.
What practices can we adopt to further this Biblical attitude toward wealth? Is it even right for Christians to strive to be financially secure?
Kenman Wong is a Professor of Business Ethics at Seattle Pacific University. He is the author of three books, most recently (with Scott Rae) “Business for the Common Good: A Christian Vision for the Marketplace.”
This article was originally published at ThinkChristian.net.