For want of a nail
Oh dear! We really are in a bit of a financial pickle aren’t
we? It could even be said that we are up a creek, without the proverbial paddle.
And what is so distressing (not to say depressing) is that this whole financial
mess is so unnecessary. Greed, corruption, ethical and moral shortcomings (in
that order) caused this whole problem. Some people are prepared to do anything
to make a quick buck.
People have idols; things they value above all others, even, unfortunately more than they value themselves – their self-worth, their honour or their reputation. As has been said before poets have the ability to say in a few words what it takes others many words to express. There is a very appropriate verse in the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (Omar was an 11th Century Persian mathematician, astronomer and poet) - which goes as follows (verse 69):
Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my Credit in Men’s Eyes much wrong:
Have drown’d my Honour in a shallow cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.
For many people their idols are money (or the “stuff’ that money can buy); or prestige and the power that comes with the position. If you “love” something above all others – an idol - this will soon be apparent to all who know you. You will have removed yourself from the rest of humanity; you will be using people as a means to an end; you will be using people to acquire more of what you “love”. They will sense this and you will have done your “credit in Men’s eyes much wrong”.
To get your idol you will cheat, you will lie, you will become untrustworthy, you will be immoral, you will be unethical in your activities. You will have drowned your honour in a shallow cup – lost your honour for something of little value – a “shallow cup”.
Your love for, your fixation to, your worship of your idol means that you will have lost all sense of proportion or reason and are prepared to sell your self-worth – who you are – for something of no substance, a “song”. You will have diminished yourself as a human being.
No one will want to trust you again – your self-worth, your reputation, your honour will have been damaged almost beyond repair.
Think Wall Street. Think World Com, Enron, Arthur Anderson, Lehman Brothers, News Corporation, and there are surely many, many others. The outrageous even breathtaking absence of ethical and moral standards displayed by those in charge of these organisations is astounding.
It would seem, almost, that our technical skills are out of step, have even out run our ability to apply ethical and moral standards to our daily dealings. It is not the organisations that are at fault (these are fictitious, legal persona, without lives of their own). Ethical conduct can only take place between humans and other sentient beings – ethics and morality start at the top, with the CEO. If there is an ethical or moral vacuum at the top of any organisation, expect nothing better down the line.
Governments and the various regulatory authorities can only do so much. They can legislate specific measures to maintain minimum levels of liquidity. Regulators can demand annual audits, they can demand director accountability and introduce financial checks and balances together with other controls. But they cannot legislate against human frailty - even their own.
In this context it may be useful to recall the words of an old nursery rhyme – a cautionary tale about the importance of doing things properly. By doing things properly, doing them well, unintended consequences are minimised. This is a story of the “Horse-shoe Nail”:-
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the Kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horse-shoe nail!
The nail represents the “glue” that binds us together as humans. The main component of this “glue” is trust. This is what holds us together as a society – trust. Trust that those we deal with believe in ethics, morality, virtues and hold to their values. Trust that people are honest and will treat others in the way they would like to be treated. When it comes to organisations – be they Governments, financial organisation, multinational news conglomerates, political parties, police departments or families there is a need to understand, today as never before, what it means to provide a duty of care and its corollary – a fiduciary duty. Anything else will lead to chaos, as is the current situation.
This leads back to the opening passage of this article – when people love their idols more than their fellow beings; love their idols (whatever they are) more than they love themselves, we are in real trouble. The shoe was lost years ago and we have already lost the horse; if we now lose the battle as well the kingdom will be in grave danger.