November 1, 2011
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Worrisome news abounds. The financial markets are spiking up and down with great ferocity. Europeans are wrestling with a gnarly sovereign debt crisis. We have our own debt problems here to go along with seemingly intractable high unemployment. The stench of war and upheaval is palpable across the Middle East and Northern Africa.
And there is fear. Fear of inflation. Fear of another recession. Fear that it’s different this time.
Perhaps the only meager comfort is to remember that it’s been “different this time” before. At the ripe old age of 60, I have had a front row seat for all manner of mayhem and turmoil. JFK’s assassination, the Vietnam War, Watergate, several Middle East crises, the Tech Bubble, 9/11, the sub-prime crisis – the list goes on. The list will always go on.
Through it all we make progress. The world is objectively a better place today than it was when I was born. There is more freedom. There is more wealth. Infant mortality rates are down. People live longer. Literacy rates are up. There is greater access to technology and modern conveniences. The world is safer and more comfortable for most people.
As we gnash our teeth over the latest crisis du jour let’s remember that difficulties do not, ultimately, prevent progress. On the contrary, over my lifetime progress has continued unimpeded despite a more or less constant stream of difficulties.
I submit that having to deal with difficulties actually accelerates progress.
Progress, after all, is driven by people. Maslow’s famous “hierarchy of needs” tells us that people are driven by the desire for survival, security, love, status and self-actualization – in exactly that progression. This is not just a psychological theory. We can see with our own eyes that people are driven to improve their lot and to express themselves through their work, their relationships and their creativity.
Our global community is comprised of nearly seven billion people striving to improve their personal situations. People do not stop just because times are tough. Creative people will continue to innovate. Workers will find ways to create value through their labor. Governments come and go. Wars are won and lost. But collectively, the inertia of progress prevails. We can’t help ourselves. That’s just how we are wired.
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