Apr 30, 2010

Attitude Adjustment Time

When the Berlin Wall came down, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Most of the people coming out of the East were friendlier and more cooperative that their western neighbors. When I asked them about that, they told me that they had lived through hard times together, so they survived by looking out for one another.

Money does strange things to people. As the capitalist bubble economy expanded over the past couple of decades, people in the West seemed to lose touch with one another. Merchants acted like they were doing their customers a big favor to serve them. Workers turned up their nose at manual tasks. Bankers considered themselves above the rules. Coaches and trainers demanded extreme prices. And I was as guilty as the next guy.

After a life threatening illness, a big dose of poverty, and the loss of everyone I loved, I “got religion”. Like the song says, “One day I was flying like a bird, and the next, I was standing on my knees.” The bad times forced me back to myself and restored my natural human values.

I always seem to be a pioneer for what is coming next in society. Just a few years after my collapse, the entire global economy crashed. Suddenly the shoe was on the other foot. When the balloon economy burst, we all had to start thinking about real value. The financial fiasco brought many people back to earth and adjusted prices back to normal. As the dollar deflated, so did our egos.

Erik Lomax spent several years in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. The men survived that hellhole by developing deep compassion for one another and by making terrible sacrifices to help each other. When he returned home after the war, he found a culture of bitterness and resentment within families and society. He described his marriage as another kind of prison camp. The easy life seemed to bring out petty and vindictive feelings that blotted out basic respect and affection.

No one denies the value of money. No one wants to see poverty and misery. What we need is the skill of giving deep appreciation, even when times are good. Along with reading, writing and arithmetic, our schools need to instill an attitude of gratitude in our young people.

The heart matters more than the mind. Daniel Coleman, in his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence, points out that there are excellent, proven ways to develop compassion and kindness in our schools and universities. But so far his recommendations have fallen on deaf ears.

But you can’t fool Mother Nature. What goes up must come down. Arrogant people always fall. Exploitive systems always fail. Whether it is global agricultural companies killing farmers in South America, corporations selling worthless stock, or you and I delivering shabby products for inflated fees, people get wise to the lies of an economy that relies on deception.

So these changes are good. There is a place for recessions and depressions. We humans need a little humbling now and again. For it is through these setbacks that we rediscover our humanity. These “bad” times offer the best chance we have to find our hearts and open our eyes to the power of compassion and cooperation.

You will achieve a better life when you make life better for other people. We invite you to tune into Coach TV to catch a reflection of the higher values in yourself that make this life worth living. The broadcasts are free, but what you will learn is priceless.