Greed's Lesson

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On May
18, 1986 Ivan Boesky, the Wall Street arbitrageur who amassed a fortune of over $200 million dollars illegally using insider information to bet on corporate takeovers, gave the commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley’s business school.  “I
think greed is healthy,” he said.  “You can
be greedy and still feel good about yourself.” 

Back then the comment got lots of media play. When I read his speech, I remember thinking that Boesky and Paul Revere had two things in common: both were prosperous businessmen and both, by their actions, were harbingers that trouble was on the way. For Revere, it was the British. For Boesky, it was an unprecedented time of selfishness, denial and corruption in America. But that’s where there similarities end. Their differences, on the other hand, could not be more striking.

Revere was a patriot who, when his country was in need, set aside his personal business to serve the greater good. The message he (and others) carried that famous night from Boston to Lexington was to warn of British troop movements toward Lexington to arrest John Hancock and Samuel Adams. His actions were to preserve and protect the will of the people and the emerging nation. His personal dedication and sacrifice were indicative of so many at that time who understood that much of what was familiar would have to be relinquished, on faith, in order to gain the freedom and fairness for which they hungered.

Boesky was the bearer of quite a different message. His focus was personal. The greater good was of no concern to him. Contrary to Revere’s personal sacrifice, Boesky crossed ethical and legal boundaries, without concern or conscience, in a rabid quest for endless personal gain. What he wanted he wanted for himself and damn those obstacles along the way…and damn his country as well. He had the audacity and smugness to advise college graduates, about to make their mark in the world, that more is never enough… and how you acquire it is of little consequence.

It seems self-evident which man is to be admired. And yet, for the past 22 years we, as a nation, took up Boesky’s call and instead of seeing it for what it was (and him for who he was), a bright light shone upon a dark problem, we revered (no pun intended) his quest for material gain combined with diminished social conscience, and sought to emulate the worst of what we are capable of when we become lost in our own egos and lose sight of personal responsibility.

The current financial and energy crises are not the fault of Republicans or Democrats or Wall Street or Main Street. They are the fault of Republicans and Democrats and Wall Street and Main Street. We are each responsible for thinking and acting as if all that matters is acquiring more, newer, better and faster “things” with total disregard for how our methods of satisfying our endless hunger infringes upon every other life form on the planet…not to mention the planet Itself. We have behaved with impudence and without conscience. We have worshiped at the feet of false idols most clearly represented by the Ivan Boeskys of our world. Even those of us who saw through the illusion and knew better were too long absent and too long silent in our dissent.

Now the hour is late. Now it is time to be counted. Now it is time to be heard. Now it is time to say and do, as the Colonists and Funding Fathers did, that the greater good can only be accomplished when we understand and accept that more never is enough because it cannot satisfy the only longing that matters…that of the Soul… which is to return to Oneness and provide for All.  Not to provide equality for All, but equal access for All. What one does with that access is the prerogative given each of us by Free Will. But so long as we allow people to starve and governments to remain corrupted and the environment to be destroyed…all in the name of profit and progress…we say through word, deed and inaction that Ivan Boesky was right and the Founding Fathers were wrong…and by so doing we are a nation writing its own epitaph.

I believe in the highest good.

I believe, at this moment in time, we are confronted with the opportunity to aspire to the greater good.

I believe it is an opportunity we welcome and one at which we will prevail.

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