Integrity Matters Broadcasts

September 30, 2008

When elephants fight, the grass suffers

Dear Friends: 

My title:  “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers” – is an African proverb.  And, it is true everywhere.  Unintended consequences can be destructive, leaving chaotic messes for others to clean up, especially when those in power do battle, while risking the safety and security of those around them.

Our elected officials are being paid, and expected, to carefully consider the issues before them, and take constructive actions to address them.  When they fail to do so they are not doing their job.

A special friend, a retired judge, is clear about the responsibilities of his profession.  “A judge is expected to render the right decision and at the same time be perceived as having made the right decision.”  As the person rendering just decisions, the judge needs to know the law and be effective in communicating the rationale for the sentences handed out.  Such clarity is required in our current political-economic crisis.

Millions of “Main Street” Americans are challenging the BAILOUT package – at least, what it smells like to them!  And why wouldn’t they?  The study of general semantics acknowledges that words have an impact on our psyche, our attitudes, even our nervous system.  So, why would really skillful “spin-doctors” in Washington choose to call this a give-away (a.k.a. $700 billion BAILOUT) program?  And why would they not explain, in clearer language, that it is not just for the financial wizards club, whose members have created the current mess by having operated in careless and sloppy, maybe even preferential and irresponsible ways? Further, this gigantic financial action should not be called a RESCUE.  

Words matter.

Our leaders need to employ the right words and acknowledge that Main Street folks deserve respect.  What if this were called an INVESTMENT?  Business ventures ask for capital infusions, often more than once, and they are not called BAILOUTS. Such financial infusions are called INVESTMENTS at the formation, mezzanine and advanced levels of enterprises – each with the expectation that performance will justify the financial support.  Lots more people will be willing to get on board with that which they understand.  Our leaders need to act as prudent managers, now, and communicate that our nation’s economic engine needs an INVESTMENT.  

To further exasperate our readers, on just how far off course our system has gone, make a note of this word, used by Social Security to describe the monthly payment returned to tax payers:  AWARD.  Yes, that is correct, the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars that each individual sets aside, by law, into his or her retirement account, to be retrieved at the time he or she turns 62 or older, are titled:  AWARDED BENEFITS.  The implication is that our government – although returning to us what is rightfully ours is at the same time telling us that this money is now owned by the bureaucracy, and has been miraculously transformed into Social Security’s gift to us:  an AWARD. 

Please do not harangue the employees of the Social Security Administration.  Find out who invented that phrasing and get it changed.  Congressional representatives probably do not know of this AWARD distortion, because most of them have a preferential program that is much better.  Even so, the word AWARD really irritates me, how about you? 

Main Street – and that is most of us – need to be heard by those in office.  They do not appear to be doing enough of the work of the people!

Maxwell Smart - Agent 86 – the confused and bumbling secret agent, can be too easily compared to members of our 2008 Congress!

Just so you will know, when this Integrity Matters column, When elephants fight, the grass suffers – printed below - was passed along to a few of my trusted advisors, for their review, they responded, in clear language.  The summary of their input – “YOU MUST BE JOKING!”  But, I’m not.

Even with their critique, please let me know if there are lessons to be learned from our dysfunctional “National Parents” that might be instructive for each of us.  And, when will it be time for partisan bickering to be replaced with unified leaders of our society, prepared to sacrifice for the integrity of our culture?

When elephants fight, the grass suffers!

2008 “elephants” are the power-brokers in Washington and the masses of citizens are the grass being positioned to bail out Wall Street.  Well-paid partisans do battle, wasting even more resources in what sometimes appears to be a blind rage of party-driven righteousness to facilitate the assignment of blame. And who suffers when these “elephants” fight? It is the everyday folks – “the grass” - who will again be stuck with the bill.  And this time the financial damages are not in the millions or billions, but in the trillions.

Our nation has devolved into a dysfunctional family. The primary players are parents; not mom and dad, per se, but rather, Democrats and Republicans. They set the tone for the entire family.  Their bickering, back-biting and outright mean spiritedness etches ugliness on the very soul of society’s family.  Honest grievances are trivialized, while dialogue becomes diatribe. 

Members of the “family” – the citizens –look to their “parents” for guidance, reassurance and leadership.  Instead - the elected leaders - both Democrats and Republicans –bombard each other and society with their self-serving attacks on one another.  The tensions they create are confusing.  If they treat each other so harshly, just how will they treat us if we challenge them?  Even though they justify their vicious actions as having been motivated in the name of “doing what is best for the family” – the climate is confusing.  After a while, the family members themselves begin to behave as members of an alcoholic or co-dependent family.  The “youngsters” – the citizens - wanting to please either or both of their intense and indulgent parents, are often confused on just how to gain approval and reduce their own anxiety. 

When there are seemingly no lows to which the fierce partisans will not stoop to maintain power, then there will be very few, if any, rules to guide integrity-centered social interactions.  Violence is lamented, but is clearly sanctioned by the irresponsible “parents” who, instead of resolving differences in respectful discussion, relentlessly sabotage one another; infrequently apologizing. 

These “parental” turf-battles may not create gangs and endorse class warfare; however, they do little to discourage counter-productive or anti-social behavior.  Self-interest replaces social commitment.  Selfishness, in the name of leveraging a majority power position, fuels opportunistic decision-making with unintended, even destructive, consequences. 

Perhaps Senators McCain and Obama, with a combined 96% buy-in from the American voters, will choose to release their Vice-Presidential nominees, deciding to lead our nation together.  The winner becomes President and the loser, Vice-President, just as presidential elections were conducted in the early days of the republic.  During their partnership, they agree to be forthright and forceful, yet gracious – remaining singularly-focused on the well-being and security of the United States of America.

In conclusion:

My naïve “hope” is that presidential candidates will be encouraged – by their respective parties - to rise above partisan politics to serve the nation’s needs. 

Please tell me that my idealism is worth pursuing, even if some of the “realists” think otherwise.  Regardless, the time is now to demand and elect mature leadership – everywhere.


James F. Bracher  

Dimension Five Consultants, Inc. 
Bracher Center for Integrity in Leadership  
P.O. Box 22467

Carmel, California  93922  

And at: 
James F. (Jim) Bracher, Director
Executives in Residence
University Corporation at Monterey Bay
California State University Monterey Bay 
100 Campus Center,  
Building 201 - Suite 101
Seaside, California  93955
Phone: (831) 582-5015
Phone:  direct: (831) 582-5038
(831) 582-5019 Fax

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