Occupy this: One of my friends works on Wall Street. One camps in Zucotti Park.
The 1 percent and the 99 percent are both partly right – and both are partly to blame for America's current state. Wall Street workers and occupiers alike have lost that crucial companion – responsibility – in their personal and public lives.
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That’s where the answer may lie: As a society of people inextricably woven together, it’s time we saw that we are all part of the problem and part of the solution. As the philosopher and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr points out, there is a righteous will in every heart to do right by our fellow human beings when we see them face-to-face and a selfish impulse to ignore their basic needs when they are out of view. The trick is to call out those humane tendencies by penetrating through to the very real consequences of our actions that are felt by other human beings.Skip to next paragraph
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To my friend at the Wall Street firm, I’d ask: When the complex financial instruments like credit default swaps flash across your screen, do you know that you’re not just trading to maximize your company’s profit but are also investing workers’ pensions, representing a family’s hard-earned retirement? In the long run, have excessive leveraging and subprime lending been worth the human toll?
Change will take a measure of government regulation (some already in effect and some in the pipeline) as well as greater ethical consciousness on the part of my Wall Street friend and her colleagues.
To my friends camped out in Zucotti Park, I’d ask: In what ways do you also profit from Wall Street’s “excess”? How do you benefit from the products and investments of big businesses like Apple and Google? And in what ways are all of us furthering unseen injustice at home and abroad in our headlong demand for cheap goods, cheap credit, and a more comfortable life?
Can those of us in the “99 percent” be sure that we might not also fall prey to those self-centered impulses that led our country astray if we were the titans of Wall Street or Washington?
IN PICTURES: Best signs of Occupy Wall Street protests
Finally, to the politicians who (mis)represent us: Are you making good on your stated commitment to serve the needs and interests of all your constituents when you take part in an electoral system where the wealthiest among us fund campaigns and seek access and influence in return? Wouldn’t we be better off if the voters owned elections by making small donations matched with public funds, as in the Fair Elections Now Act before Congress?
In Americans’ clamor for rights – and in our need to be right – Wall Street workers and occupiers alike may have lost that crucial companion – responsibility. Bankers, protesters, politicians, and bystanders must act ethically in their personal and public lives. And that begins with you and me.