Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Are you ready for your fall?

"Criminal: A person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation."
- Howard Scott

Though this quotation was intended to be humourous in its original position, out of context in today's world it seems clearly wrong.

The criminals we hear about most are those who perpetrate the greatest of white collar crimes and those who commit the most violent. The violent ones care little about investment capital unless they happen to be collecting from sources such as prostitution, gambling or drugs.

Today's white collar criminals, at least the ones we read about, have worked their way through the system of business to positions of power. Unlike the military, where position may be achieved through retirement or death of a superior, a position of power in industry is attained through relentless hard work.

Often, success happens too quickly. This is when people are hated or when they have problems themselves that they can't escape.

In politics or the military, a power base of people who are not just supporters but are dedicated to fulfilling every need of a leading politician or superior officer is built slowly and carefully. Someone who achieves great power in business too quickly may not have that complete a power base beneath them in the hierarchy.

We could think of the situation like a pyramid that is missing blocks in some major positions below the summit. Eventually, the weaknesses will show. What does the man of power (the one represented by the summit) do then?

Too often he turns to means of supporting the positions he has taken on various matters that are illegal. He may not even know they are illegal because he is not well enough versed in the law as it relates to the work of his position.

The recent death of Enron's fallen angel/CEO Kenneth Lay, a fatal heart attack following convinction not long ago on several counts, suggests that he could not accept the fact that what he did was illegal. He didn't believe that he was responsible for the crash of one of America's largest empires. It was someone else's fault, but he took the rap. His body couldn't take failure on that scale.

There's a saying that applies to those who venture into the air in an ultralite craft: Don't fly any higher than you are prepared to fall. A corollary would be to make preparations for a major fall so that no serious harm will come from the mishap.

Whether a businessman or a high rolling criminal, the label "successful" is only granted to those who die without being caught. To those who either didn't fall or who fell to a soft landing and recovered to fly again.

While it's unwise to avoid taking any risks in life (it's a waste of oxygen), we should be prepared for a fall. They happen to almost everyone. We should know how to recover, even if it takes years.

We can prepare young people so that when their turn to fall comes, they do not find themselves suicidal, criminal, addicted or emotionally wasted.

If social scientists have the skills to repair broken people, their skills could be used to teach young people how to avoid breaking themselves in a fall.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' striving to have education systems teach young people how to avoid breaking when their fall comes.
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