Gregory Smith, an executive with Goldman Sachs, resigned, publishing the reasons behind his resignation in the New York Times. The core of his reasoning focused on a shift of culture at Goldman Sachs away from serving customers towards making money for the firm; as he stated “… the interests of the client continue to be sidelined.” On the heals of the economic meltdown and a public skeptical about the culpability of Wall Street, such a public resignation may feed a needed discussion.
I remember years ago in a class at Penn State experiencing a rare moment of public indignation when a fellow student answered the professor with the response “The only reason people go into business is profit.” As a child of self employed parents whose orientation towards their business went way beyond mere profit, I was loudly incensed. And I still believe life is not that easy – that demonizing business or Wall Street as all “bad” because all “they” care about is profit is faulty logic. Such a position is overly and seductively simplistic, demonstrating the ego’s need to break the world into the good guys and bad versus a more properly nuanced position that understands that yes, individuals and corporations do get off track but that that is a reflection of the mixed nature of the human condition itself, a condition that letters like the one written by Gregory Smith “calls on the carpet.”
Case in point about the flawed humanity we all share – on the day the above hit the paper, the front page also carried a story about Americo Lopes. After spending years collecting money from his fellow workers to buy lottery tickets, he purchased the winning ticket worth $38.5 million. He kept the winning ticket secret from this friends, quitting work and quietling settling into life with all the winnings. The jury ruled that he had to split the winnings. And again, note the craziness of it – even if he split the winnings immediately he still would have been a multi-millionaire but that was not enough for him. He needed it all even at the cost of those friendships!
See that is the human condition – the blessing and breaking. From those with resources to those without, we all battle the same human proclivity toward selfishness – a battle requiring vigilance. In Corinthians, we read that Christianity “speak(s) a message of wisdom among the mature but not the wisdom of this age.” The misguided “wisdom of this age” is what needs questioned, a “wisdom” that commoditizes much of our world. For healthy dialog, faith must remain a foil of sorts to the commoditization of life, to the breaking down of the world into dollars and cents. Then faith can rightfully take its place not as a demonizing force but as a “message of wisdom among the mature.”
“Eden” in this world will not a be place devoid of these conflicts, these battles between the higher and lower natures of the human soul. How can it be? We all have a Gregory Smith and an Americo Lopez in ourselves. But we can live into an informed future where faith does speak.