Thursday, March 29, 2012

When Greed Overpowers Other Human Values

While Gordon Gecko fostered the notion "greed is good," when you get too much of a "good" thing, "good" can become "bad" and even destructive. Former Goldman Sachs executive director Greg Smith wrote a powerful editorial in the New York Times this month,which argues that our financial institutions, and Goldman Sachs, as an example, having fostered the growth of a "greed at all costs" culture, that ultimately eats everyone in its path. The greed monster, as Smith experienced it, eats not only its children, but also its customers, its opponents, and ultimately our humanity.

Smith puts forward that the accomplishments he is proudest of "have all come through hard work with no shortcuts." Yet, Goldman Sachs, and the world it is part of, is all about shortcuts, without focus on achievement, or even doing right by one's client.

Smith notes, "The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example, and doing the right thing." But today, making boat loads of money has replaced those higher values, and "if you make enough money (and are not currently an ax murderer), you will be promoted to a position of influence."

To be focused on getting your clients to buy, sell or trade whatever will bring the greatest profit to Goldman Sachs is not in the client's higher interests and often are not in the client's interests at all. The client's success and satisfaction is not part of the Goldman Sachs "success equation."

Smith reflects, "It astounds me how little senior management gets a basic truth: If clients don't trust you they will eventually stop doing business with you. It doesn't matter how smart you are."

So, we have created a culture of master manipulators and salesmen, doggedly pursuing their narcissistic goals at the expense of the very people they once were in business to serve. And in the culture of no conscience, the fact that the practices that are being rewarded will ultimately sink the Titanic are not even reflected upon. "More, more, more. Me, me, me. Now!" is the corporate cheer.

In my eyes, this is the definition of hell on earth: people so absorbed with their own selfish interest that they destroy others without blinking, looking back, or in the worst case, even thinking about it. The financial services industry is riddled with a moral cancer that sadly is spreading to all of the commericial sector with metastases in government, health care, education and most all public institutions.

Our atom bomb is coming from within. And if we want life to continue without the proverbial mushroom cloud, we need to take action with our mind, hearts, voices and feet. Standing for interdependency. Making people aware that we don't live in a vacuum and there are consequences for our actions. Acknowledging if our actions harm others, this is not a good course of action. All of these steps are needed to transform our world to a more humane one for most if not all.

By taking a stand and speaking up in a public forum, Greg Smith has taken a very important step in confronting the monster. May more of us have courage to do the same. And may we band together to overthrow the dragon and restore respectability to the practice of business and commerce, where customer satisfaction and customer needs are restored to their proper place at the top of the food chain.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Art Goes Virtual, Does It Also Go Extinct?

My basement in annointed with the plastic tubs filled with photos I took during the first years of my now 16-year old son's life. My piano bench is home to the notesbooks of lyrics and staffs of tunes to the songs I wrote when I was 16 to 21. My bookshelves include physical copies of not only the books and magazine articles I have written over 27 years, but also a plethora of meaningful tomes about healing, psychology, relationships, nature and all subjects dear to my heart.

Tapes and CD's adorn my bedroom, offering the opportunity at a moment's notice, to journey through time with songs. There is something comforting about being able to reach out and touch not only parts of my life history, but also the wealth of sensual nourishment that music, photos, books and other forms of artistic expression provide.

In our increasingly virtual world, anything physical can be relegated to judgment as "clutter." For me, these physical artistic relics are treasures, and my room, the treasure chest.

As our world becomes more virtual, these treasures, all products of creative expression, become increasingly optional, and in some cases, on the verge of extinction. Why "clutter" your home with "things" if you can get it on-line or on your iPod? I feel sad that what might be sacred to me might be considered archaic archives, but without recognized historical value. What I find even more disturbing is that if my iPod fails me, if my computer crashes, and if everything backed up gets lost in the cloud, there will be no physical traces of my sacred items.

When my son has children, and technology has evolved to a state we cannot even imagine today, how can I show them the photos that document their pre-birth family history, if I have not taken measures to preserve them through physical photo albums? Will the on-line photo albums of the year 2012 become as archaic as the record player but without the physical status to allow an archeological dig?

When art existed only in the physical world, we took more care to preserve it, archive it and treasure it. Now, people create images or click their smartphone camera and delete them as fast as they created them. They are just entertainment tidbits for the moment. We are so in the "now" that we forget there is a context of past and future too.

Even more fundamentally, the industries that served musicians, photographers, writers and other artists have gone the way of the dinosaur. I recorded a tape of original music in 1983 in a recording studio on reel to reel equipment. Today, people record music at home on their computer. Sadly, the value-added of the sound engineer (as well as the sound engineer's livelihood) gets lost in the shuffle.

While it might be exciting to skip the two-year production cycle it used to take from writing a book to having a physical copy in hand, I assure the e-book that was "written over the weekend" sans editor is not at the same quality level! We are so focused on instant gratification that we rarely take the time to create the quality product that will stand the test of time.

Perhaps it is because I am kinesthetic first and visual second that all the popular e-platforms don't grab me. Kindle, no thanks. I want to touch my book and mark it up with my pen! iPod, help! I like to see ALL the material on my CD in one glance, and have a simple enough selection that I can wrap my mind around it!

While some people say that our virtual technology for publishing photos, books, articles and art is revolutionizing the world the way the Guttenburg Press once revolutionized publishing, I worry that this evolutionary wave will leave more casualties in its wake. Like the difference between a nuclear cloud and a BB gun. Might we be losing more ground than we are gaining?

There is a spiritual aspect of physical art as well. Bringing a vision into physical form grounds it. It anchors it. It assures that it is real.
While a fire may burn away precious archives, somehow that feels like less of a risk than computer software evolving to burn away what was once "state of the art."

When I was in 8th grade, my class made a time capsule and buried it in the schoolyard with the possibility of digging it up decades later. Could the kids of today make a "virtual time capsule" and be assured it would even exist decades later?

I feel strongly that music, photographs, books, paintings and other art forms benefit from having a down-to-earth old-fashioned physical representation. Imagine what future archeologists will be missing if they try to unearth a world so enamored with virtual reality? Or will we evolve to cloud dwellers who exist on-line but not in human form? Ask Siri. She has an answer to everything!