prev next

Lincoln Institute


Civility and Selfless Sacrifice

by Frank Ryan
 

By Col. Frank Ryan, USMC (Ret.)

The Medal of Honor is bestowed on those individuals "who conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his [or her] life above and beyond the call of duty" serve with selfless sacrifice and without regard to their own life.

Virtually every American respects the Medal of Honor and the significant selfless sacrifice that the award conveys.

It is this concept of selfless sacrifice, while revered, is missing so noticeably from our society today. I am certain that our selfish preoccupation with instantaneous gratification have caused many of the problems we, as a society, face.

Be it the bailouts of General Motors, the banks, corporate greed, the Madorf scandal, or the continuous refusal to deal with the burgeoning debt load this Nation is facing, it can all be traced to some degree of selfish action on someone's part.

If a Nation is ever going to attempt to rebuild itself, the very character of the Nation must emphasize selflessness and personal responsibility.

In the corporate world and billion dollar bonuses on Wall Street, I shudder to think if those executives believe that they are "worth" it. While worth is usually determined by market forces, the underlying understanding is that the system is not "rigged". Anyone with experience in corporate governance will tell you that boards seldom question management actions. The "market forces" designed to protect against greed are ineffective.

In the same vein, the drain on General Motors funds of the excessive pay and benefits to its employees helped cause the bankruptcy and the resultant bailout of the company. Unfortunately, when the bankruptcy code was usurped and the rights of creditors trampled on in favor of labor, the result was a selfish act of greed which will negatively impact corporate fund raising for decades to come.

While GM workers may have temporarily benefited from the action, in the long run Ford, Nissan and Toyota are more likely to survive.

The quandary that few understand is that selfless sacrifice is frequently a very selfish thing to do. The paradox is that selfless behavior usually has very long term benefits to the selfless person with a cost in the short run whereas selfish behavior rewards in the short run but has a long term cost. In other words, it is a pay me now or pay me later concept.

This dichotomy between long run rewards of selfless behavior and short run pleasure and instant gratification of selfish behavior cause many to misunderstand the value of behaving selflessly for the long run.

In the case of social security, it is clear to virtually every Certified Public Accountant that the system is bankrupt at best and insolvent at worst. It is equally clear that the options are to increase withholding rates, reduce benefits, or a combination of the two. Unfortunately, the politician who proposes a long term solution to the problem will not be reelected. Instead, we act selfishly and insist that the politician give us what we want now and let someone else pay later. That same politician will come back to us just a few years later offering to solve the very problem that they created. And we will buy it!

In the case of the health care reform, those wanting a socially desirable goal of total coverage are unwilling to face the reality that a person is frequently responsible for their own health. It is simply easier to push the "cost" onto the physician and other health care provider rather than tell the person that behaviors do impact health. The United States is one of the few nations where obesity is an epidemic. In many cases, obesity can be solved by modifying personal behavior yet the health costs of obesity are enormous (no pun intended). Is it selfish to consume health care services if you make decisions which cause the need for the health care cost to be borne by your neighbor and society?

The same impact of selfishness can be seen in the education system. The lack of accountability for results and the lack of being responsible parents to children in school place the entire burden of education on the teacher. The selfish behavior of parents who abandon their responsibilities to assist in the education of their children perpetuates this cycle of mediocrity in education.

While the free market system is definitely imperfect, nothing is more imperfect than a system which "insures" that all will be treated equally regardless of their actions. The equality that will be achieved in this type of selfish system is an equality of mediocrity. The minimum will become the standard rather than the floor.

Only through our emphasis on selfless sacrifice and personal accountability will our Nation be rebuilt. Our Founding Fathers left us a wonderful legacy. What we do with that legacy is our decision and ours alone. Pay now or pay later.


Col. Frank Ryan served as the Central Command Special Operations Officer in late 2001 and early 2002 in Tampa and very briefly in Afghanistan. Additionally, he was recalled to active duty out of retirement in 2004 to go to Iraq where he worked with the Iraqi National Security Advisors and the Deputy Ministerial Committee of Iraq of National Security. In civilian life he is a CPA and specializes in keeping companies out of bankruptcy.


Share   Share

Featured Columnists
Featured Audio Links