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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Andrew T. Durham
Bio: Andrew T. Durham
Date:  September 29, 2008
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Looking Inward in the Shadow of a Financial Meltdown by Steve Amoia and Andrew T. Durham
Winter of Our Discontent: My Kingdom for a House, Mortgage and Bailout

Many of us go through a time in our lives when we lose our identities in our work, opting to place all of our self-worth in our jobs. While most sane people understand that when you place the validity of your self-image entirely in one activity, person or idea you are, for all intents and purposes, filling out an application to be devastated. But most people are self-destructive anyway. Just look at what we place value upon in our lives.

In any event, the semi-lofty meanderings above will be reduced to money in the coming months for many. With the recent (and long ago orchestrated) financial crisis that engorged the headlines, you will find people trying to sell you things, trying to give you excuses for things and trying to accuse you of things because of “these uncertain times”. They did this with 9/11. But the truth is that this so-called tragedy – conceived and nurtured in the Nixon Administration with the pediatric aid of Alan Greenspan – will not significantly affect those of us who have committed the ultimate and unpardonable sin of this materialistic age by having only one home. Which is not to say it won’t come home in other ways, which we will get into later. For now, general needs to precede specific.

In a recent article by Katherine Bucknell published in the Times of London, the recent roller coaster of global financial markets was documented in personal terms. She discussed how the failure of Lehman Brothers was felt among “City” (workers in the London financial district) denizens and their spouses. Unlike Bear Stearns and AIG, the United States Government did not bail out Lehman Brothers. Stockholders, many of whom were Lehman employees, lost virtually everything as the former blue chip stock went from zenith to nadir in the span of one year.

Self-esteem tied to Financial Worth

“Many of them are workaholics, accustomed to being under pressure for 18 hours a day. We hear that they are frantically looking for work, and that a lucky few are being recruited by former competitors. But how many jobs can there be in this environment? Adjusting to being out of work will be hard for the rest of them, adjusting to being out of luck even harder. Their self-esteem may now be lower than their net worth. They have no place to go but home, to tell the family.

Some Lehman wives feel that their husbands were lied to by the firm; they were encouraged to stay, to reinvest, to ‘engage their passion’, as the Lehman Brothers careers website still forlornly urges. Those wives are wondering how their husbands could stay loyal for so long despite all the warning signals. Why didn't they devise a Plan B?”

(Source: The Times of London, 18 September 2008, “After Lehman Brothers: Desperate City Wives,” by Katherine Bucknell.)


Loyalty is a Two-Way Street: Rewarding Failure

When corporations ask for our loyalty, they need to exhibit the same commitment in return. But as we saw this past week with Lehman, along with previous high-profile cases, thousands of workers were written off like a bad debt. As the English say, they were made “redundant.” But why is it that the CEOs of these companies walk away with generous rewards for failure, while their subordinates are left with a train wreckage of personal, financial, emotional, and career turmoil?

According to Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, former Lehman Brothers CEO, Mr. Richard Fuld, hit the lottery.

“Last year, Mr.Fuld earned about $45 million, according to the calculations of Equilar, an executive pay research company. That amounts to roughly $17,000 an hour to obliterate a firm.”

(Source: New York Times, 17 September 2008, “Need a Job? $17,000 an Hour. No Success Required,” by Nicholas Kristof, op-ed page.)

Leadership means being responsible for the well-being of others. But how often do we ever hear “It was my fault, it happened on my watch, I take responsibility, and I don’t expect a severance package?” In Japan, the CEO commits hara kiri out of a sense of shame. In the West, the CEO rips the guts out of their employees while floating away on golden parachutes. “We are like family here.” Whose family, the Sopranos? And every single organization talks about “team work” or “team building”. Then, of course, they make you sit on a power drill when things go to hell.

So, like the old parable teaches, “A scorpion will be a scorpion.” And some failures are engineered for other, more subterranean reasons. Therefore, what many see as “losses” are far, far more than merely misplacing something, as the word implies. Similarly, sometimes things we lament as having “lost” we never owned in reality, so we either allowed them to be taken or we just gave them away.

Losing a Job

Let’s look at the other side of the equation. Why do we say, "lost a job"? Did we own it in the first place? Sudden job loss has become synonymous with death or grieving. Surely, it hurts on many levels, but aren't there tougher things to deal with in life? Perhaps we place too much emphasis on what others think of us or allow strangers to peg a value based on a job that could vanish tomorrow. Or a large house, luxurious car, and other trappings of “success.” As Ms. Bucknell noted , tying one’s self-esteem to a job or material possessions. Aren’t we more than a job that is ultimately controlled by someone else despite our own diligence?


“Cases can be severe. I once saw a woman whose husband had hanged himself after he was made unemployed. He was a sane, rational, bright young man with no history of mental illness. But employment does not just provide money - a job underpins who you are and gives you an identity. When that goes, life can feel helpless. This husband wrote his wife a suicide note in which he said that he was of no use to her, that she was better off without him.”

(Source: The Times of London, 18 September 2008, “After Lehman Brothers: Desperate City Wives,” by Katherine Bucknell.)

We all identify with our work. It's natural. But we strip away the souls of people and make them feel worthless when bad things happen. Then treat them (and sometimes ourselves) like lepers to further reinforce the alienation. We forget that a person is more than a job. The attachment syndrome. The Dalai Lama has discussed this topic at length. "I can't even own a dog. Too much attachment." The Buddhists believe that much misery and suffering comes from our attachment to things and people. The irony of Lehman Brothers was that financial firms are usually built upon diversification. But as we saw on a business and personal level, the leaders of the company seemingly failed their employees, and the latter also were remiss to invest so much into a company or job.

Or could it be that the Masters of the Universe were doing something intentionally, serving a larger scheme of things dependent upon the devaluation of the dollar? Sometimes the Buddhist mantra of the suffering of life is part of a tapestry created by those with the most toys. And sometimes, yes, the piano does fall from the high rise and kill the pedestrian.

An Example from Bronx Tale

In the movie produced by Robert De Niro, there was an interesting exchange between a young man and his older mentor. The younger one lived and died for the New York Yankees, but the older man changed his perspective in a New York minute. “If you can’t pay your rent, will anyone from the Yankees come by to help you out?”

The young man never felt the same way about the Yankees.

Perhaps we should re-examine how we look at those who employ us. Many go into job interviews automatically assuming the people judging them know what they are doing. The reality is that, behind the scenes, unethical, illegal and prejudicial things make the hiring decision. Vacuous advice givers on the Internet, radio and television spew misleading and paranoia-inducing beatitudes to the job seeker. Most of these rules are rubbish. And, as stated before, the so-called “uncertain times” will be used as an excuse to justify already unstable business managers to demand more of employees…all for the justification that “times are tough.” Guess what? They always have been. Your lack of planning does not constitute my crisis.

Perhaps more importantly, how we examine ourselves and fellow citizens. Part of being human means being humane. Perhaps Human Resources should be renamed “Humane” Resources. The entire field of Human Resources (which sounds like something out of Soylent Green) was built not on the needs of growing businesses but on the knowledge that supervisors no longer were adhering to the Golden Rule of Hiring: Always hire someone who is more qualified than you. So Human Resources is a gigantic industry based upon the low self-image of people who are supposed to be doing the damned hiring in the first place, but in constant fear of their own inadequacy.

And perhaps we should not judge others or ourselves by material achievement. He who dies with the most toys does not win.

The unpleasant yet certain truth is this: You are born by yourself, you will go through life essentially by yourself, and you will most certainly die by yourself. No one goes with you. So you have to learn to love the only thing you will ever truly know, own, trust or understand: You.

Get to know it, love it and, on your own terms, determine the admission price.

Steve Amoia has published articles, book reviews, and interviews about alternative health, art history, career-related themes, historical figures, Italian and international soccer, martial arts, psychology, and sports medicine topics. His writing portfolio and contact information can be found at

Andrew T. Durham

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Biography - Andrew T. Durham

Andrew T.Durham is a graduate of State University at Albany, with a degree in Psychology/Philosophy. In the late 80's to mid 90's he was instrumental in creating ground-breaking outreach/prevention programs, as well as being a highly successful public speaker. A former acupuncturist and clinician (primarily to inner city adolescents), he has also been a consultant to the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health and several non-profit organizations. He is an accomplished musician - proficient in 7 instruments - ,actor and author of 10 plays, 5 of which have been produced. He is currently a consultant for small non-profit agencies and lives in Rochester, NY

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Copyright © 2008 by Andrew T. Durham
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