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Gimme!  Gimme!

Commentary by Stephen Heck



The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good: Greed is right, greed works.                      
Gordon Gekko, from the film Wall Street


Once again it is the season of dark, windy nights when withered leaves scatter about our neighborhoods.  Many people around the world celebrate Halloween which is one of the more unusual holidays in the celebration calendar.  Descended from festivities of the ancient Druids that placated the spirits of the dead, Halloween today has become an occasion for adults to dress up or for children to tramp from house to house ringing door bells and demanding a quick treat. For the most part, Halloween is a harmless activity, yet in some ways the �gimme the goodies� routine represents an attitude that pervades all too many individuals and businesses today.  This attitude is the belief in quick gains with minimal effort which easily evolves into a paradigm of greed.

Throughout history, humankind has pursued many supposed paths to wealth. During the medieval era in Europe, alchemists feverishly sought the �Philosopher�s Stone� which was the medium to turn base metals, such as lead, into gold. Although many alchemists engaged in what would now be considered bona fide scientific research, all too many others engaged in fraud and dubious black magic.  Probably the most famous and enduring of the myths about quick riches was the legend of the South American chief El Dorado (in Spanish, �The Gilded One�) who was the prince of a fabulously rich country filled with gold and precious gems.  The 16th century Spanish spent enormous sums in pursuit of this chimera through such famous explorers as Francisco Coronado and Francisco Pizarro who fell under the spell of this myth.  One of the more infamous, but little known 16th century Spanish pursuers of this dream, was Lope de Aguirre aka �El Loco� who slowly went insane as he sailed down the Amazon river. His fellow conquistadors perished through accident, murder, and disease.  Aquirre was later killed in battle by his countrymen in Venezuela when he tried to establish a kingdom independent of the Spanish king.  Thus ended Aguirre�s chance at the El Dorado Lottery.

Today these legends seem quaint and we wonder how humans could be so gullible. But never underestimate the attraction of greed as one of the primary human behavioral motivators.  These are difficult and frustrating times to support yourself financially particularly if you have a family. When you see unbridled greed in others your response may be disgust, but your reaction could also be to figure out means that you could utilize, a la Mr. Gecko, to get more �goodies� for yourself regardless of the consequences to others. 

So during this Halloween time of year, remember that the Druids of ancient Britain and France viewed October 31st as the last day of their year.  They saw it as a time for reflection on their past behavior as well as an opportunity to examine the portents for the future. Perhaps they reflected on the words of another ancient, the 6th century BCE Chinese philosopher Laozi (Lao Tzu):

�There is no calamity greater than lavish desires. 
There is no greater guilt than discontentment and there is no greater disaster than greed.� 

Stephen J. Heck is a Fellow of The Business Forum Institute.  Steve has extensive experience leading complex, multi-faceted initiatives impacting growth, operating efficiency, and overall financial performance of businesses across diverse sectors including public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. Career achievements include reengineering under-performing business operations, managing Information Technology enterprise system integration and facilitating global business expansion and growth. He has held senior positions with such organizations as Synergy Consulting in Portland, Oregon;the WiMAX Forum in Beaverton, Oregon; Humboldt State University in Arcata, California; and Metro Regional Government in Portland, Oregon. Steve gained a B.A. and Masters of Public Administration from Portland State University, Oregon. He also received a Masters of Social Work from the University of Washington in Seattle after serving as an infantryman in Vietnam. He has been a member of the Project Management Institute and IEEE, and served as Vice Chair of the Portland Police Bureau�s Citizens Advisory Board. Since 1996 Steve has been an evaluator with the Prior Learning Assessment Program at Marylhurst University in Oregon, and from 1984 to 2000 Steve was Adjunct Professor in Public Administration at the Hatfield School of Government, Portland State University in Oregon.

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