There's little doubt 2009 will be a year of turmoil. If we are wise, it can also be an opportunity for reflection.
The turnaround in U.S. fortunes has been sudden ... and deep. Wall Street is in shambles. The U.S. auto industry is nearing collapse. The swoon of the U.S. economy has dragged other nations across the globe into the same downward spiral. Millions who last year worried about having the latest techno-gadget are now worrying about having a paycheck.
The causes the experts give us for this precipitous decline are a Rubik's cube of financial minutiae. Yet, I'm left with a sense that choices made by each of us lie at the root of this crisis
"The Talmud teaches that a person who only looks out for himself and his own interests will eventually be brought to poverty," Rabbi Jennifer Krause told the New York Times recently. "Unfortunately, this is the metadrama of what's happening in our country right now. When you have too many people who are only looking out for themselves and they forget the other piece, which is to look out for others, we're brought to poverty."
For a long time, many of us have ignored the consequences of our actions - even when we've known better. And it wasn't just the Wall Street greed merchants, either. Middle income Americans with regular jobs fell under the sway of a trend that urged us to indulge in any fantasy, that a credit card could bring us priceless moments. And so we bought.
We bought gas-guzzling SUVs and trucks because fuel was cheap; ignoring the little voice that told us we were endangering the planet. We invested our nest eggs in wildly overpriced housing hoping that others would follow our folly and keep the bubble from bursting. We wanted to believe that wealth did not come through hard work but by who you knew. So we entrusted our money to men like Bernie Madoff.
Now, our indulgence and shortsighted decisions have borne their bitter fruit.
Fortunately for us, losing one's wealth is not a tragedy. Unlike death, we have a second chance. Even the most severe economic slumps are invariably followed by prosperity. The only real tragedy we face is not learning from our mistakes.
If we want a better future for ourselves and our children, the economy we rebuild should not so soon bring us to poverty again. (We have seen bubbles in high-tech and real estate burst in less than a decade.) The economy we rebuild should consider the health of our planet and the fate of the nearly seven billion fellow humans who share it with us.
This is not an idealistic dream. As we have seen, looking out only of ourselves is a form of myopia that will eventually lead us over a cliff. If we want true prosperity, we need to build our lives with an eye on how we can help others as we help ourselves.
I once heard it said that hell is a place where hungry people sit at a table covered with food but cannot eat because the utensils they are forced to use are too long to bring the food to their mouths. In heaven, the story goes, people are in the same predicament. But there, they feed each other across the table.
It's a parable to keep in mind as we begin the road back to prosperity.
Causes Raul Ramos y Sanchez Supports
Chicar Youth Empowerment
National Society for Hispanic Professionals