Money, Measuring, Materialism

April 18, 2016

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Tulip

Taxes are due today.  The annual task of preparing our returns for the IRS does force us to take stock and look at our finances.  Is this a worthy exercise?  I don’t know.  It would be if it truly helped identify our fair share of this nation’s tax burden.  We should feel good about paying our fair share.  Yes?

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When one of my colleagues saw this cover of Time Magazine this week, he said, “They want us to share the debt, but don’t talk about sharing the wealth!”

 

When I was in business school, one of the axioms from a class on performance management claimed, “You get what you measure.”  If you base your performance reviews on productivity and short-term profits, then employees will make decisions to make themselves look good in those areas — to the detriment of other less tangible values, like sustainability, environmental care, healthcare for employees, etc.  Our culture — on many levels — seems to focus on monetary measures as the means to ascertain our happiness, well-being, and success in life.

For example, policies and practices about education favor studies and careers in math, the sciences, and engineering and give short shrift to humanities and the liberal arts.  Would you want your son or daughter to study English literature or computer programming?  What makes a college education worthwhile?  The subtle and not-so-subtle pressures you feel or put on your children to get a degree in a field where they can be assured of a well-paying job are just one indication of what our culture truly values.

I leave you with the following excerpt from a speech by Robert F. Kennedy in 1968 about what counts and what should count in all our lives:

University of Kansas, March 18, 1968

“Even if we act to erase material poverty, there is another greater task, it is to confront the poverty of satisfaction – purpose and dignity – that afflicts us all.

Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product, now, is over $800 billion dollars a year, but that Gross National Product – if we judge the United States of America by that – that Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.

It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.

It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities.  It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.

Yet the gross national product does not allow for 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 marriages, 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 can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

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2 Responses to “Money, Measuring, Materialism”

  1. Diana Studer Says:

    counting ‘beans’ but not what truly matters. Inspiring.

  2. Anne Timlick Says:

    These reflections,complemented by RFK’s, are a treasure.
    Thank you for sharing your beautiful mind -and artfulness!


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