I was talking to a friend of mine last weekend and he was telling me about the tough year he just had in 2010. He’s an Accountant and he spent most of last year unemployed. But, he made all of his mortgage payments on time, out of his personal savings. And, he was current with all of his bills.
He seemed pretty bitter that others were mooching off of entitlements and strategically defaulting on their mortgages, while he had done the responsible thing and paid all of his bills. He told me others are being rewarded for their recklessness and he felt like he was punished for being responsible.
What Happened to People?
I’m not sure when it started to become acceptable to lie, cheat and steal in America. When I was growing up, if someone was dishonest, everyone knew it and looked down on them. People were ashamed to have personal debt and they rarely defaulted. People stood by their word and fulfilled their obligations, unless it was impossible to do so.
Things are very different today. People are almost proud when they describe how they walk away from their debts. I know a lady who declares bankruptcy every seven years, like clockwork. And, she brags about it, like its some brilliant financial strategy. I have three friends who have strategically defaulted in the past two years, because home ownership didn’t work out like they had planned.
I often wonder what has caused so many in America to lose their conscience and abandon their morals. I wonder how they justify the deceit and if they are worried about the example they set. Most important, I wonder how far this trend will go and what the consequences will be for future generations of Americans.
What Happened to our Institutions?
There were over a million foreclosures in 2010 and there are projected to be another 1.2 million foreclosures in 2011. This is not a problem caused entirely by borrowers. In my opinion, banks deserve the lion’s share of the blame. Not only did they lend people money they couldn’t afford to pay back, they created escalating loan terms that had the effect of bankrupting homeowners. Banks refused to modify loans as they promised Congress then used robo-signers to illegally expedite waves of foreclosures.
Companies have lost their moral compass, in search of higher profits. They have no loyalty or compassion towards employees, investors, suppliers or customers. The sacred bottom line is used to justify any manner of devious activity, including tax evasion and fraudulent accounting. Even churches and charities are engaging in behavior that is questionable. Recent high-profile bankruptcies have pulled back the curtain on a couple of failed mega-churches and the result is a trail of waste, mismanagement and nepotism that rivals a third-world country.
The ultimate disappointment to me is our government. It’s not like citizens expect a high level of integrity from our government. It’s that our elected officials seem to sink to a new moral low each and every year. Their lack of shame is as boundless as the problems they are creating. In a delusional attempt to protect citizens from themselves, the government is undermining the very fabric that made our country great in the first place. The American Dream was once a shining promise of opportunity. That has been replaced by a gluttonous sense of entitlement.
Responsibility Does Pay Off
Despite the ever-declining sense of responsibility from some people, I’m not one to despair. I learned quite a while ago to only worry about the things I can control and to let the other things go. I can’t control the thoughts or actions of others, but I can control my own thoughts and actions. I choose to continue to be responsible, even if it costs me some time or money. The reason I have made this conscious choice is because I believe it benefits me.
First, I have recognized that most irresponsible people don’t get ahead. Despite the small gains they make by taking shortcuts, they don’t have a big-picture plan that leads to wealth or accomplishment. Like for example, my friend who declares bankruptcy. She may have gotten out from under hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but she is closing in on 50 and owns nothing. When she retires in 15 years, she is going to be in a world of hurt.
Second, I realize most of the big opportunities have come my way because of my character and integrity. Being an IT Manager, I am in the trust business. If my company couldn’t trust me with their files, passwords and other sensitive information, I wouldn’t have a job. On the other hand, one never knows when a lack of trust costs them an opportunity. Employers routinely screen out candidates with bad credit or bankruptcies. Success for the responsible is usually permanent and lasting, because honesty never unravels, like deceit.
Finally, I have recognized a strong correlation between my integrity and my happiness. I have watched the gleeful looks of those who take advantage of others and it pales in comparison to the lasting feeling of pride from self-accomplishment. Dishonesty breeds selfishness, mistrust and paranoia, while honesty facilitates confidence, contentment and camaraderie.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that getting something for nothing is an illusion. Status and trinkets that can be gained by dishonest behavior, but they come at a very high price in the loss of integrity. The value of integrity is unlimited, because it underlies all of the greatest achievements of mankind.
“When you count on yourself, you are seldom disappointed.”
Bret - Hope to Prosper
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