Everybody Else Is Doing It
By Charles Rush
November 19, 2006
Ephesians 4: 22-24
(mp3, 5.2Mb) ]
deeply appreciate the things you all send me. I got this one from the office of American Express. It was a memo sent by Warren Buffet to the employee's of Berkshire Hathaway on September 27th of this year. This is what the number one investor had to say:
“The five most dangerous words in
business may be ‘Everybody else is doing
it.’ A lot of banks and insurance companies have suffered earnings
disasters after relying on that rationale.
“Even worse have been the consequences from using that phrase
to justify the morality of proposed actions. More than 100 companies so far
have been drawn into the stock option backdating scandal and the number is sure
to go higher. My guess is that a great many of the people involved would not
have behaved in the manner they did except for the fact that they felt others
were doing so as well. The same goes for all of the accounting gimmicks to
manipulate earnings - and deceive investors - that has taken place in recent
“You would have been happy to have as…your son-in-law most of
the people who engaged in these ill-conceived activities. But somewhere along
the line they picked up the notion - perhaps suggested to them by their auditor
or consultant - that a number of well-respected managers were engaging in such
practices and therefore it must be OK to do so. It's a seductive argument.
“But it couldn't be more wrong. In fact, every time you hear the
phrase ‘Everybody else is doing it’ it should raise a huge red flag. Why would
somebody offer such a rationale for an act if there were a better reason
available? Clearly the advocate harbors at least a small doubt about
the act if he utilizes this verbal crutch.
“So, at Berkshire, let's start with what is legal, but always
go on to what we would feel comfortable about being printed on the front page
of our local paper, and never proceed forward simply on the basis of the fact
that other people are doing it…Thanks for your help on this. Berkshire's reputation is in your hands.” 
What could be printed on the front page
of the local paper… But everybody's doing it. It is a
seductive argument, living as we do in a culture that is increasingly trying to
belong. The external symptom is seen in the trend in branding across the last
twenty years. Our children sport more clothing with 'Summit' written on it somewhere. We have
more decals on our cars that say MV or Nantucket or Kennebunkport or Duck. Our gyms feature more
shorts that have Yale across our bottoms. We feature more golf club logos. More
and more of us carry duffle bags that say 'Goldman Sachs' or 'Merrill Lynch'.
We want to belong and express our identity this way more and more.
Our children use this need to belong
effectively with us do they not? I know in my generation, we parents had to
endure maddening, loud birthday parties at Chucky Cheese because everybody
was doing it.
I remember with my children that this
argument forced me to only shop for my kids at Abercrombie and Fitch or J.Crew. That was it. We parents generally acquiesce on
these early arguments, deciding to fight our battles on other grounds.
And then there come a series of bad
choices in the teenage years that you know call for better judgment.
"Honey, I don't care if everyone is doing it, why in the world are you
wearing flip-flops in the snow to school?" "Son, I don't care if the
whole lacrosse team is dipping snuff, I was hoping we left this habit in the
South with the cars in the yard that don't run anymore."
Are you kidding me?
And our children are extraordinarily
effective at using this against us too. My daughters loved to announce at the
last minute that they would be going to Manhattan the next day with their friends
unescorted at 13, usually when I'm driving down the road. I'm like 'whoah'. Then I get the 'What??? Mom said it was fine.' I'm stunned and I ask
if the other parents gave permission for this. The response, 'Dad, you are the
only one who cares about this. Stop freaking out on me. Is this a Minister
They get you going. "I am not a
control freak." It is the old divide-and-conquer technique. Keep all the
parents isolated thinking they are the only one with concerns… But there are
cracks in the wall. I would say, "I'm going to call Mr. O'Malley and see
how he feels about this." This evokes a shriek. "Dad, you are so
embarrassing." Yes I am… I've learned. Usually I finally get Mr. O'Malley
on the phone and he says, 'Well I'm not comfortable with this but… I heard that
Reverend said, 'No problem'. Control freak? My daughters are selling me as the
But then there get to be more
substantial issues like the third time your son is retrieved from a party
completely hammered. You are in the middle of the lecture and they say
something like "It's not like I was the only one at the party, we just got
caught." Usually these conversations don't go much of anywhere because you
are too mad and they are not listening. But you want to say, "I'm sensing
that this is not just about fun, even though it seems that way. Somewhere when
you introduced the funnel or the vodka shots… Somewhere when you all decided
that to drink til you passed out, it seems to me,
just spiritually speaking that it is much easier to go mindless than to deal
with some of the anger you have, some of the abandonment you feel because I'm
not here, some of the anxiety you feel over being accepted, some of the fear
you feel about how to develop intimacy with girls, or some of the pressure you internalize
to succeed… And it may be easier to just get totally blotto, but it is not
better, and it will develop its own complications. I know about this."
You get to more substantial issues like
hearing your daughter throwing up in the bathroom. You ask her about it and she
says something like, 'well you should see Megan Connor or Kristi Riley if you
want to see an eating disorder.' Usually, we parents feel out of our depth at
this moment and these conversations don't go much of anywhere. But you want to
say, "Honey, I'm wondering if you are internalizing all of these
over-sexualized images of young women in the media and that you becoming
obsessed with body image. Spiritually speaking, I'm wondering if your anxiety
and fear about the social pressure to be sexually available beyond your comfort
zone is filling you with interjected anger that looks like self-loathing. Megan
Connor has gotten so skinny that she is I can't believe anyone is actually
pursuing her to make your point. As a coping measure, this may be easier, but
it is not better and it will develop its own complications. I know about
Spiritually, we intuit that our
affluent culture has its own set of issues. We sense that we have issues even
if everyone around us is doing it. I was reading a psychologist talking about
the family issues that she deals with in Marin County just north of San Francisco.
Families where one parent is
over-working or away from the family and the other parent feels pretty much
like a single parent.[i]
Families where one
parent is emotionally unavailable and the other parent gets more and more
emotionally invested in their children to make up for the deficit and they
intrude in their children's lives in unhealthy ways.
Families where the primary wage-earning
parent feels entitled to call the shots and the imbalance of power creates low level tensions in the family that
other family members are reluctant to address for fear that they will upset the
status quo and the considerable perq's that follow
over-compete themselves and expect that from their children and develop an
undifferentiated ethos of perfectionism that creates anxiety and is a precursor
for depression. Families that over-value
"extrinsic markers of success such as high grades, trophies and admission
to prestigious schools" but unwittingly under-develop the spiritual
virtues of internal motivation, altruism, and an appreciation of things that
are intrinsically worthwhile.
Families that develop overly busy
schedules and a preoccupation with material concerns that intrude on sustaining
deep friendships, community involvement, and a grounded spiritual life which
encourages children with a sense of entitlement and self-absorption rather than
a community spirit of giving back.
Whew, you're probably thinking what I'm
thinking…, 'Thank God, we don't live in California'…
I don't think it takes advanced degrees
in Psychology to figure out the pitfalls of the affluent society we are raising
our families in. Spiritually speaking, it is fairly clear the imbalance that we
surround ourselves with.
Spiritually speaking, you have to break
from the crowd and do you own thing, as creative and interesting people are
wont to do. There are difficult choices to be made but they are not quite so
difficult when you have a spiritual vision in place of what you want your
family and yourself to become. I was interested to read about the Basketball
all-star Chris Mullin who played for St. John's and then in the N.B.A..
summer he took his family to visit the grandparents and some family friends
until one year when one of his sons made a 'select traveling team' in soccer.
The coach shot out an e-mail to all of the parents about commitment and said
that the kids couldn't miss a single practice if they were to be on the team.
There is this All-Star athlete/Father with a choice, 'Grandparents
and family friends or Sports'.
Chris and his wife shot the coach a note back, family is more important than
sports. Period. Maybe it is easier for a stellar
athlete to know that his children will be excellent without making every
[I remember when my wife was a nursery school teacher at the
Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; All of the parents were the best
scholars in their fields; most of the families spoke several languages; All of
them shared a noticeably relaxed approach towards their children's educational
development. They didn't have any of that over-achieving worry that plagues
most of us.] Maybe it is easier for the Mullin family because their family is
really fun and meaningful and ours aren't that uncomplicated. Maybe it won't be
that easy for you to make that choice. But spiritually, you have a choice and
you have to live with it.
Jesus called the church into being as a
spiritual antidote to the spiritual imbalance of our world. He said we are to
become the leaven in the lump that causes the bread to rise. We are to be the
lamp that is set on a stand, providing orientation to those in the darkness. We
are to be the salt that gives the meal its flavor. We are to be that thing
which is missing, without which life becomes flat and stale. We are here to
help you develop a coherent spiritual vision for your life. We are here to
facilitate deep friendships that make life meaningful and content. We are here
to help your family find a community involvement that expresses giving back. We
are here to strengthen each other to live lives of intrinsic worth. We need you
to be involved and be part of it… As Warren Buffet said, "Christ Church's reputation is in your hands."
We need a profound spiritual community
because that will help all of us to formulate a coherent and meaningful
spiritual vision for ourselves and our families. Once you have a shared
spiritual vision with your spouse, your life develops a lot more clarity. It is
a lot easier to make choices that swim against the cultural current if the two
of you are agreed on where you are headed together. No, I wonder if the reason
that the Mullin family could make a quick judgment on what they were doing
because they had a clear spiritual vision of where they wanted their family to
head and obsession with one select team was not in the vision.
Our affluent culture has many obvious
benefits and that is why we are all here. But… don't be afraid to break free
and become spiritually interesting. Trust your creativity and the value of
spiritual wholeness. You are not a lemming in the crowd. You are more complex
and curious and colorful than that. Find the balance and don't be afraid to
stand for what you know is true. You just might be profound enough to live with
few regrets. And you know what? You will be able to print that on the front
page of the paper. Amen.
 My thanks to Darla Stuckey for bringing this to my attention.
She read on ProfessorBainbridge.com.
all come from Levine, Madeline The Price of Privilege (San Francisco:
Harper Collins, 2006), p. 170-171.
[ii] Ibid. p. 172.
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