What crisis?

Title: What crisis?
Editorial from Mr Rutger Koopmans, recipient of the Ethics in Business Award in 2007.
Publication: New Europe / The European Political Newspaper
Date: 03 Juni 2013
Author: Rutger Koopmans

Many people ask themselves: “When is this crisis over?”. “Which crisis?”, is my first response to this. For a long time we believed that the crisis which hit us in 2008 was a financial crisis, with its origin in banks lending providing sub prime mortgages, securitising ‘toxic assets’ and spreading the crisis throughout our economy. And thus we all blamed the banks. At a later stage we started to call it “an economic crisis”, then afterwards it became the Eurocrisis and so on.

In my view, the crisis that came over us is a moral crisis. It is an ethical crisis within our society. It is about self-interest versus common interest. It is about a choice between what is good for others versus “what is in it for me”. We focus on self-interest: our people, our country, my salary, my pension and my economic well being. And oh my, do we pity ourselves for this crisis.

There is a lot of criticism on the banks and rightly so. But we need to understand that the financial industry for a few decades provided us with a heaven full of unprecedented wealth, which we enjoyed and consumed without the slightest hesitation. For us, it was never enough. As long as the music played, we all were happy. Only when it stopped we started to blame the musicians.

We need to fundamentally rethink which values we will take as our ‘compass’ throughout our lives. Contrary to past generations who have sacrificed a lot of their energy to give their children a better future, we still live a life in which we foremost focus on our individual situation, and therefore we easily feel very sorry for ourselves.

The moral crisis of today therefore will not go away until the moment that we plead guilty for bringing it around ourselves, over us and over our children. No generation ever before in the history of mankind has absorbed so many resources to create such individual wealth, and we have done that at the cost of our children and of the future of this world and its environment.

The crisis is here to stay as long as we refuse to abandon our religion for individual values and it will cease to exist at the moment we bring our behaviour back to the basic scope of human values. Greed, pride, prestige, power, possession haven taken the best of us and have led us to behaviour for which we have to take responsibility instead of blaming others.

In fact it is all very simple: it is about human values. Nobody needs to tell you what these are, because you were born with them, they are within your DNA, they are at the bottom of your heart. It is about love, about honesty, about human scope, about the love for your beloved ones, about which company you want to belong to, about trust, about what you will do and what you simply will never do.

Let us go back to where we belong as human beings, let’s talk and live the human values. Let us lead our people and ourselves to do what needs to be done and let us not ask who is paying the bill or who is sacrificing what. If we accept ourselves with sincere our human values, then we will find a way out of this crisis, out of this jungle in which ‘homo homini lupus est’.

That is what ethical leadership is all about, and we simply have no choice.