Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Charity Never Faileth

"Let your heart feel for the affliction and distress of everyone."
~ George Washington

Suze Orman, financial guru, appeared on Oprah today. She is a no-nonsense expert on personal finance and I almost always agree with her, even when it challenges my own beliefs about money and makes me uncomfortable with the way I handle it. She has been appearing on Oprah for 10 years, as she pointed out on today's show, and took everyone watching to task for not following her advice, which has led to the condition of the economy and the problems we are facing.

People are losing their homes, their life savings and their retirement funds all over the country. If you aren't affected, I'm sure you know someone who has been or will be. I've been listening to news reports and analyses and carefully reading articles on the Internet for the last several weeks, trying to figure out who or what is responsible.

Ms. Orman says that WE - 'Main Street America' as pundits call us (as opposed to the professionals running banks, credit unions, insurance agencies, etc., and especially the current political administration...) - are responsible. We wanted things (i.e. homes, furniture, clothing, etc.) beyond what our incomes allowed and the so-called professionals - especially credit card companies, banks, loan companies - were willing to fund those wants for a price. Oftentimes, our credit scores didn't matter and we were approved in spite of our future ability to pay. Everytime we overextended ourselves and bought merchandise or homes using credit cards or loans, the stock in those holding companies went up and the CEO's at the top of the companies made more money, so, of course, they were more than willing to extend more and more credit. BUT, eventually, it all had to crumble, because, at some point, we found that using one credit card to pay off another, or to pay our mortgage, pushed us further and further into debt and left us with less and less expendable, spendable cash. In the last few months, it has all come crashing down.

This was the most down-to-earth, logical explanation I have heard or read. The word that she used to explain it all was GREED. We all wanted more - from Main Street (again, meaning you and I) to Wall Street. It was the 'American Dream' to have it all and have it all NOW.

Our parents were exponentially more well-off then their parents. They were raised during the Depression and saw their parents struggle just to survive and raise them. Our parents learned the value of work early and worked hard to have what they had. We were raised with nice things and we expected to have those things when we became adults. We didn't see how hard our parents had worked or how long it had taken them to accumalate the things we had and the homes we were raised in. We expected to have all the nice things immediately and we went into debt to achieve it - rarely realizing that this was a dangerous and foolish thing to do. Always with the hope and dream in our hearts that everything would work out all right. Americans are known around the world for our optimism. 'Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses' is a phrase that seems especially coined for us.

The one thing that Ms. Orman said today that I take exception to is that she has no sympathy for those of us in this situation. She has been advising us and warning us for 10 years and because we didn't listen and take her advice, she doesn't necessarily feel sorry for us. I agree with George Washington when he said, "Let your heart feel for the affliction and distress of everyone." This is the true definition of charity, as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary: "a. benevolent goodwill toward or love of humanity; b. generosity and helpfulness especially toward the needy or suffering".

These are challenging times. The financial future of the United States is facing peril and could take a long time to recover. We can't rely on the government to buy our way out of trouble in the future. We have to learn from our mistakes. In fact, to become the most responsible citizens we can, we MUST NOT repeat our mistakes. We can't let this be our legacy to our children. By turning our lives around, it will be an example to them of living responsibly. We have to follow Suze Orman's advice and not rely on credit cards or live above our means. It won't be easy, and we probably won't be as comfortable for a while as we have been. We have to learn to be financially self-reliant.

Friends and family all around us are suffering not just from financial depression but emotional depression. We shouldn't be criticizing each other. We have to support each other. The time for benevolent goodwill toward others is NOW. The one thing we must have for each other is charity, because "Charity never faileth".