NANCY Aulenbach's place of business is far off the beaten path. She participates in cave conservation efforts, which have taken her from the canyon walls of Arizona to underwater caverns beneath the jungles of the Yucatan. Something Ms. Aulenbach said in a self-narrated film about her amazing caving experiences came to thought the other day. I recalled her comments at about the same time I was reading the latest news about Enron and wondering what life will be like in a post-Enron world.
Nancy explained that when she explores underwater caves, she has a rule that's never broken: When one-third of the air in her oxygen tanks is used up, she returns to the surface. It makes no difference if she's within just a few feet of her destination. When the air gauge is down by one-third, she heads back. No compromise. She knows she could bend that rule some if she wanted to without risking great danger, and certainly without anyone knowing about it. But that thought doesn't tempt her in the least. She has a standard and she sticks to it. Period.
Why is this worth mentioning, especially when the big story about upholding standards (or not doing so) involves corporate giants and billions of dollars? Because in order to eliminate the widespread disenchantment with business (which polls show is on the rise), and build confidence that companies are operating in a way that's worthy of everyone's trust, we need a different perspective. Nancy's actions are a reminder that the vast majority of us, whether swimming alone in underwater caves or sitting in corporate offices, are trustworthy people, who have high standards and live up to them.
Now, I'll have to admit that I was becoming a little cynical about big business in general, the more I heard about the fallout from Enron - lawsuits flying, investigations under way, and hundreds of people out of work. I must have been one of the people Connecticut Governor John Rowland had in mind when he said, "The average guy on the street sees the Enron mess and says, 'Oh, another corrupt corporation.' "
But now my perspective is more positive, thanks to the wake-up that comes from asking God what's really going on. "Mark the perfect man," is the eye-opener that came to me - part of a verse from a psalm that reads in full, "Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: for the end of that man is peace" (37:37). (The word mark, in the original Hebrew, means "take heed of.")
Perfection may be the last thing anyone expects to see in the messy aftermath of a scandal. But it is here, nonetheless, as an illuminating and transforming idea from God, or Mind. Our real nature hasn't lapsed; it remains upright and perfectly good, just like the God who created us. Perfection comes from that perfect Mind that is our creator. That makes it the right idea about all of us, and reminds us that we are a great deal more than we sometimes appear to be.
That's reassuring. Lately I've been sticking close to this idea. It's a standard for me to live up to, to the best of my ability. And whenever I'm with others, I look for that same standard to come through in their lives. Why shouldn't it? It's natural for people to be true to who we really are.
More than just doing away with cynicism, this way of thinking is a powerful force for good in society, as the founder of this newspaper, Mary Baker Eddy, well knew. In "Miscellaneous Writings," she wrote, "Holding the right idea of man in my mind, I can improve my own, and other people's individuality, health, and morals; whereas, the opposite image of man, a sinner, kept constantly in mind, can no more improve health or morals, than holding in thought the form of a boa-constrictor can aid an artist in painting a landscape" (pg. 62).
Call it spiritual integrity - adherence to the highest standard, being upright and perfect, as God made all of us to be. If we begin there, try to bring that out in our everyday transactions with others, and look for others to do the same, then a post-Enron world promises to be a better place in which to live.