Economy blues: Now is the time to reflect on our wrong choices

The fact that we face tough economic times is pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point.

The implosion of the credit market, the downturn in housing and rate of foreclosures all universally verify the state in which America finds itself. Ironically, however, a lot of individuals seem more interested in assigning blame than finding ways out of the crisis. So who or what lies at the root of this mess? The answer may be a lot simpler than an analysis of banking practices, inflation or energy prices.

To illustrate this, I want to describe a personal experience that might shed some light on the subject. A couple of months ago, I left my office in Renton in search of lunch and ended up at a 7-11 near Ikea. After grabbing a shrink-wrapped turkey sandwich and a Big Gulp, I walked outside to my car, hit the remote to open the door, and slid into the driver’s seat.

To my surprise and dismay, however, the key wouldn’t turn. As most men would normally do, I just kept trying the same thing over and over again with minor variations (such as jiggling the key). Nothing worked. A second later, though, I looked around the car and figured out the issue...it wasn’t my car! It was the same make and model and color, in front of the same store and such, but that didn’t make any difference. I got out of that Ford Focus, got in my own, and drove away.

I was absolutely certain I was in the right car, and what my eyes told me simply backed up that incorrect impression. The wrong assumption in this case yielded the wrong outcome.

That same situation literally happens every day in our lives...we are absolutely certain that our viewpoints, decisions and actions are correct, without even considering the possibility of error. The fact is, however, that when we depend on our own flawed and finite human viewpoints that often we tend to make the wrong choices altogether. Increasingly the choices that human societies make end up eventually leading to unanticipated results that affect many.

The current economic downturn clearly comes as the result of the choices of a great many business leaders and financial companies. Loans with substantial risks were made to individuals who lacked the means to adequately pay for them. Business decisions that sought quick and risky profits were made with inadequate accountability. Lapses in both ethical practices and sound business principles created the market implosion.

Ironically, the masses clamor for causes of these crises and ultimately for a villain...often content to blame the president, world politics or evil corporations instead of delving into the real root cause or causes.

The real root cause of these kinds of events has to do with the idea that humanity can make accurate, wholesome decisions on its own with no real reference point. For example, there is a great deal of talk about ethics and ethical behavior, and yet so many times there is no consensus on what that looks like. Much like my experience at the 7-11, people think they have the right idea, but are unaware of what is actually true.

One of the rather clear ideas promoted by the communities of faith is accountability...the idea that actions matter and have consequences. Furthermore, actions are based on decisions and come as the result of values. If you examine the value systems of most faiths, you get the clear idea that honesty, hard work and looking out for others (not just oneself) actually mean something.

Any society that promotes self-centered behavior, celebrates winning at all costs, and gaining wealth at the expense of others (such as suing everyone they can) certainly is just as off-base as I was in Renton. We can’t blame the business world for doing the very same things we do in our individual lives. We would do well to reassess where we are, what we value and where we want to go ethically.

Although we might get confused at times, relying on an infinite God who holds us accountable and teaches us the right way to live makes much more sense than what we are doing now. Let’s have the good sense to stop trying to turn the key on a lock that won’t turn and get back to a way that will get us moving again.

Federal Way resident and religion columnist Joe Rinehart: jjrinehart@comcast.net.

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