Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote that, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and adversity.” The same could very well be said of society. And particularly of our society today amidst the financial tribulations we face.
It is human to want to react with rage. It is natural, and perhaps just, that we want to tear down and remake the economic constructs that allowed for unbridled avarice and risk with so much of our future.
But anger is not enough. Even amidst the “challenge and adversity”, we must continue to build. Our generation’s defining moment is now. We will be called “great” if we react with generosity, compassion and courage. The good news is that some of us are.
Even amongst the losses of money and jobs and dignity, people are changing. And for the better in most cases. We are reaching out to our neighbours and helping. The help being given to food banks and job fairs and the newly homeless and the newly poor are but some example. If we just look around we will see this everywhere. That’s the example for us to go forward with.
The reality is that we will make it through this no matter how long it takes. Most companies will go on, most jobs will be there. Perhaps at lower wages. Certainly with slower growth. But that is not necessarily a bad thing.
We will once again become a society that knows the value of something, not just the price of everything. We will stop killing ourselves with debt trying to keep up with material standards as the measure of our humanity. We will learn to give as well as take. And we will remember what is truly important.
We will remember what Robert Kennedy taught us forty years ago that, “The gross national product does not measure the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our love; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country; it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about ourselves except why we are proud of what we are.” Our current crisis affords us the opportunity to recalibrate.
To once again put our values front and center. Our values as human beings not as cogs in money-making machines. We have a chance to be real people again. To have faith in ourselves and in each other. That faith, manifested in a thousand and one stories every week, will be the rock of our recovery. A helping hand will not be deprecated as a hand out.
We will once again understand what’s real. That consumption for the sake of consumption is quicksand. That living within our means is “in”. That we can rebuild at lower levels, and that’s okay. And most importantly of all, that the true measure of every person is in the content of their character and not in the quantity of their wealth.