Ignoring Mount Everest

for the week of July 8, 2002
by Rubel Shelly

The respected Xerox Corporation disclosed that it improperly booked $6.4 billion in revenue over a five-year period. From Enron to WorldCom to Xerox, an unnerving series of financial mismanagement disclosures involving billions of dollars has shaken both the markets and public confidence in big business.

"These numbers have gotten so large that it's akin to auditors driving past Mount Everest and saying they never saw it. How can you miss $6 billion?" said Lynn Turner, a former SEC chief accountant. "It's a shame that corporate America has somehow gotten into the mindset that this is OK." He's right, you know.

President Bush spoke of the growing number of scandals in big business and said, "Corporate America has got to understand there's a higher calling than trying to fudge the numbers, trying to slip a billion here or a billion there and maybe hope nobody notices."

Whether it was the real Ivan Boesky or the fictional Gordon Gekko, the few people who dared to say aloud that greed is good appear to have been putting into words a widespread philosophy for doing business. A system that once functioned to raise the general standard of living in this country has been prostituted into a system that lies and commits fraud to create the appearance of success in order to reward its executives with lavish lifestyles.

So what can you and I do about any of this? We can get clear about our own attitude toward money and stuff. We can renounce a me-first, pleasure-at-any-concession attitude toward living. We can put the larger good ahead of personal advantage. We can frame and live by a principled code of behavior. And we can pray for the courage both to honor high standards and to refuse to keep silent when we see obvious abuses of fundamental integrity being committed.

There must be people yet who are beyond-the-bottom-line men and women in the marketplace. They must care more about being role models than getting rich. Even if no one ever hears about their deeds, they must pursue the quiet satisfaction of being morally upright over the gaudy attraction of being filthy rich.

For believers, the ultimate profit-and-loss statement on a life is this one from Jesus: "What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?" (Mark 8:36, The Message).

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