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The Four Way Test

November 29, 2011

I recently read this blog post in the Washington Post. It is about the Penn State scandal, not in and of itself, but as the final straw in the writer’s loss of faith in the public leaders of our parents’ generation.

Reading it, I couldn’t help but recognize many of my own sentiments, often expressed to my husband over our lingering dinners. It is difficult to understand how that generation so effectively squandered all of the wealth they inherited from their parents’ generation. The world they are handing off to us seems bleak compared to the world they were given.  A system so singularly focused on growth at any cost is not sustainable, especially when it isn’t even working.

Having said all of this, some believe (and I count myself among them) that we are at the dawning of a new consciousness; that this difficult time is going to lead to the birth of a new way of doing things, a more sustainable and more just way. I like to think that the Occupy protests are a sign of that; Americans getting fed up with the current system and demanding change.

Then I read this article about the Occupy Wall Street protests and I feel sick. Of course politicians and bankers are in bed with each other. Of course they have mutual interests to protect. This is not surprising. It is very disheartening, though. Where to begin? In a democracy where our vote is our voice, what do we do when our elected leaders ignore our cries once we’ve put them in office?

It seems the only way to make ourselves heard is to vote with our dollars. Many people have done this, pulling their money out of big banks and putting it into credit unions. Shopping small local businesses. Eating food that is sourced close to home. All of these things can make a difference, but we have to get more people on board. As long as  WalMart is profitable, we’re feeding the beast. As long as we prefer the short-term convenience and cheapness of goods from China, we’re feeding the beast. Our parents’ generation somehow learned that they should have what they want, when they want it, at a price they like. They didn’t ask any questions about the long-term effects of this need for instant gratification.

Now we have a nation of gluttons, addicted to excess, believing it is their right to be wealthy, even though a very small percentage of the population are actually rich. There is a vicious cycle at play here: people lose their jobs so they tighten their belts and try to get everything as cheaply as possible, thus shopping at places like WalMart which sell cheap garbage made in China that used to be made in the US, thus enriching and creating jobs for China rather than creating demand for US made products that would employ US workers.

I could go on and on but I don’t want to get all rant-y. We need change. We need real hope. We need leaders who are not owned by bankers. Somehow capitalism turned into growth at all costs to enrich the few, rather than a fair way to distribute wealth based on the needs and wants of ethical people. We need to return to true capitalism, rooted in the belief that if practiced by ethical human beings, the markets will work in such a way that everyone will have access to what they want and need.

What happened to our parents’ generation’s ethics? What happened to enlightened self-interest?

Will the leaders of our generation make the same mistakes or will we learn from the mistakes of our parents? Whoever rises to the occasion, I think we all need to use the Four Way Test employed by the Rotary International as a means to gauge public policy. The test asks the following questions of the “things we think, say or do”:

Is it the truth?

Is it fair to all concerned?

Will it build goodwill and better friendships?

Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

Perhaps if the current generation of leaders had been asking these questions all along, we wouldn’t be where we are today. But here we are. And I return to my previous statement that I am among those who believe that the result of this low point in American history is going to be a dawning of awareness, a reawakening of secular ethics that will lead to a more just system. It will happen, because it has to. We’ve run out of alternatives.

So, who is it going to be? Who is going to our generation’s leader. Any takers?




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