Building on the August 2009 release of my now-bestselling business book, Love Leadership: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass), I have spoken around the world, to everyone from heads of organizations to Heads of State, on how, in a world where we should be asking, "What do I have to give?", far too many of us are simply asking, "What do I get?"
I also outline how what we are experiencing in this global economic crisis is no normal recession, that in fact it is "not a recession, but a reset." I have written on my definition of a "reset" here in previous articles on the Huffington Post.
I have gone further to suggest that this crisis is the story not so much of the failure of free enterprise and capitalism as of the failure of greed.
Most recently, I have said that at bottom, this is not so much an economic crisis but a crisis of virtues and values, that instead of obsessing about what made this country great (the power of meaningful ideas), we have turned to simply obsessing about money. We have made the biproduct the product. No wonder we are in a world of hurt and cannot seem to find our way. We have "lost our storyline."
Having said this, I now believe I need to say a bit more.
This crisis is no normal thing. Let me explain.
Whether an individual is spiritual or not, I think we can all point to scientific evidence that our small shared planet can live without us, but we cannot live without the planet.
Having no reference of religion, we can all agree that the earth as we know it was once literally covered by water (all major world religions basically recount the same historical events, simply told from their cultural and geographic perspective and around the same period in shared world history). Christians relate to this period through the story of Noah's Ark, and it reflects a period when God Almighty simply ran out of patience with you and me, His children -- His stewards in this place.
Human beings (you and me) are essentially animals, no different from the household pet running around your feet about now. That is why a human being who has no connection with his true "humanity," as viewed through the lens of hope, inner meaning and purpose in life, can kill, rape, and maim, almost without conscience. They can do this, because at that moment, they have no conscience. They have disconnected from what makes them truly human.
The only differentiation between man and animal is that human beings have what I describe as "a spirit capable of growth," including the gift of reflection, discernment, love, and hope.
Explained through my own lens, I would suggest that God (I call Him God, but you call Him what you like; God has no self-esteem problem) gave mankind discernment and "free will" and, with those gifts, responsibilities, too -- "dominion over all things." In other words, we are here as His personal stewards in and of this world. In exchange for taking care of this planet and "the least of these God's children," we get to live an amazing, fulfilling life, like no other animal in the known world. Follow me for a moment here. I am almost there.
God does not make bad things happen. He gave us free will, and with that, I believe He anguishes with all our life choices, encouraging us to do right and pained when we chose to do wrong.
And so He does not make bad things happen, but He will help us get through bad things and bad times when we use the gifts He gave us and call on Him for a little assistance. I call this the humility of surrender. Wisdom enough to know who is really in charge around here. Stay with me just a moment longer.
Fast forward from thousands of years ago when water covered the earth, and mankind, failed as stewards, began again.
Today the world is on a bubble. If you look around, nothing is really working all that well anymore.
The environment seems to be, well, busted. Seasons -- what are those? The weather patterns are rewriting history daily.
The global economic system is, well, busted. To put it bluntly, global government spending is essentially keeping the world's economy moving (yes, even in China).
In 2008, at least twice the global economic "system" as we know it simply stopped working. The system of the last few decades -- focused on me, what do I get, and when do I get it -- is simply running out of steam. When you treat clients like a transaction rather than a relationship, and when capitalism is about making money at the expense of everything else, and when no value is given to actually creating something of value through that capitalism, then something is terribly wrong.
When shorting the stocks of otherwise perfectly healthy companies drives the economics of "a good day" on Wall Street, then something is wrong.
Making $50 million simply by shorting a company's stock is not really so much the making of wealth as the simple transfer of wealth. A market maker of that companies' stock had that $50 million yesterday, and today you have it, and the company, its shareholders, its employees, and its vendors are all in free-fall as a result.
Rome succeeded when it was about we and began to fail terribly when it became about (advancing) me. Where are we today as a society?
In short, I believe that mankind really only changes as a result of feeling some level of pain, and today, I believe that God is once again trying to help us avoid literally lighting ourselves on fire as a result of our own choices.
Let's look at just some of the global facts.
Top scientists in the world warned us decades ago about the devastating effects of what they described as a coming environmental crisis, now most commonly known as global warming. Politicians and others, playing a purely short-term, fear-based game with our children's future, rationalized it as the ravings of the irrational.
Not so very long ago the world experienced a tsunami in Asia, but smart people wrote that off as something that just happens in third-world countries.
Bringing the crisis closer to home, we have had more hurricanes in Florida over the past few years than any time in recorded history, but smart people wrote that off as simply the reality of Florida being in "Hurricane Alley."
Bringing the crisis literally to many of our doorsteps was Hurricane Katrina, which mostly affected those whom I and the Bible term "the least of these God's children." But smart people here in the United States wrote that off as a crisis of poor people, as if somehow they brought it upon themselves. Someone even jokingly said to me at the time, "Is Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi even still part of the United States?" It wasn't funny then or now; it was just sad.
That said, it spoke to something that I have felt growing for some time in the twenty-first body-culture of a country I love, and a country that frankly the world needs to one day lead again.
It spoke to something much more powerful and insidious than what even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and my personal hero, Ambassador Andrew Young, dealt with, even in the midst of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Dr. King, Young, and other noted civil rights leaders of the day dealt squarely with the issues of love vs. hate, but at least they knew for the most part what they were dealing with.
The issue today is not so much an issue of love or hate but rather of radical indifference, and indifference is the death knell of the soul. When I don't care enough about you to hate you, the world is in bad shape.
Sensing this growing cancer on the spirit of a great country and her people, I launched Operation HOPE in 1992, following the Rodney King Riots in South Central Los Angeles with a series of Bankers Bus Tours. I was seeking to "re-weave the nature of community, and our utter inter-dependence," back together. Or as Dr. King once said, "The movement is about saving black men's bodies and white men's souls." What was clear then is also clear now: we are all in this together.
But we have heeded none of these messages, from Asia, to Florida, to the Gulf Coast here in the richest country in the world.
And so, unable to get a measure of our collective attention, I believe that God sent a message that, once and for all, we could all relate to, and at the same time: a global economic crisis. A crisis that hit everyone, rich and poor alike and on all six continents, at the same time.
The question before us now, is where do we go from here?
My mentor Quincy Jones, national co-chair of our 5 Million Kids initiative, tells me that "it takes 20 years to change a culture," and in the last 20 years we have all made dumb sexy. We have dumbed down and even celebrated it. There is even a multi-million dollar Diesel Jeans "Be Dumb" campaign currently being advertised throughout the whole of mainstream America, and no one has said a word about it. It is like we're saying, "Well, it's okay. It's now simply who we are." Well, I believe it is about time we make smart sexy again and take our communities and our culture back.
At every level, it is as though we have been hijacked by what I can only call thug culture, and I am not simply talking about inner-city drug dealers and gangster rap here. I am talking about everything from Wall Street to Main Street.
We are all in this together.
Rainbows After Storms
The 20th century was about the emergence of democracy all over the free world. As a result, we witnessed the visionary and inspiring emergence of leaders such as Nelson Mandela in South Africa; Gandhi in India; Michael Collins in Ireland; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Dr. Dorothy I. Height, John Lewis, and Andrew Young in the southern states of America. All were after essentially after the same thing; they sought to make democracy relatable to you and me, by giving us, for example, the right to vote.
The right to vote commodified, if you will, democracy for us all. It made democracy relatable to us and empowered us to make changes in our own lives and our own communities and, in so doing, to re-write our own generation's cultural norms in the process.
Today, in the 21st century, we now arguably live in an age and an era of economics. There are more than 40 million Americans without bank accounts today, which is more Americans than there were without the ability to vote in Dr. King's 1963.
In this environment, I have said, "If you don't understand the language of money, financial literacy, and you don't have a bank account, you are nothing more than economic slave." Ambassador Young, our global spokesman at HOPE, has said, "Dr. King and I integrated the lunch counter, but we never integrated the dollar," and, "To live in a system of free enterprise and yet, not to understand the rules of free enterprise, is the essence of slavery."
Financial literacy is the new civil rights issue of our generation, and the first global silver rights empowerment tool of the next generation.
It is a global issue, and together with a radical shift of our virtues and values both backwards and then forwards, and with the launch of a global civil rights movement (defined as finally making free enterprise and capitalism work for "the least of these God's children"), we just might help save free enterprise and capitalism from itself.
As my friend and fellow Young Global Leader Matthew Bishop, editor for The Economist, writes in his new book The Road from Ruin (Crown Business), "The early American-watcher de Tocqueville observed, optimistically, that 'the greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.'" He continues, "For America, and the rest of the capitalist world, this is a moment when we need to show that we can repair our faults. This is going to require serious reflection to work out what went wrong and how to put it right, avoiding the pitfalls of returning to old orthodoxies. This is a lot to ask.
This said, we have asked God Almighty for much more, and now it is time for us to rise to the level of real stewardship and Love Leadership that God demands, humanity deserves, and unborn generations to come, will need.