Investment Bankers – Deadly Sinners or Deadly Human?
As a guy swinging around all corners of London and the cyber world proclaiming a new sense of identity and reality, it may be a little rich that I also come out defending a sector much widely maligned for its role in bringing the world to its knees in 2008: Grossly irresponsible, negligent and highly criminal in some quarters.
Bankers in the eyes of many have been named and shamed forever, even so much so such that in the self-defeating exercise that is Brexit, some members of the public delight in the fact that international banks are moving some of their vast operations to mainland Europe in order to continue trading once Britain leaves the EU. The consequence: fewer jobs and less tax revenue.
However, before we launch into another tirade about why the actions of the few tarnished the reputation of many who just happen to work in financial services, let us take a step back and reflect upon the conditions that fostered such behaviour and ask ourselves – is it really just a select few within the banking fraternity that tarnished the reputation of many, or do we need to look at our society as a whole and take collective responsibility for the failures that manifest within our society that the West has created today?
First, let us look at the case of car manufacturers. The plight of VW is well understood, but what created the incentive to rig the system by manipulating their emission tests in the first place? The answer is Greed. What caused the cases of World Com, Enron and Arthur Andersen to collapse? Again, we arrive at the same conclusion.
Away from the corporate world, what are we to make of the many sexual scandals that have rocked the yoga world, from Bikram and Anusara to Satyananda. They all have one thing in common: Lust.
How about investing in the financial markets? Isn’t this just another form of speculation? Our pension investments, our property, our ISAs, are often described as ‘sensible’, ‘prudent etc’, yet on a different level are just another form of speculation – after all, investing is not risk free, and at any moment is subject to ‘fluctuations in value’. We hope, we pray, that our investments will produce returns, but it is not guaranteed.
Now, before everyone starts shouting me down on the basis of hypocrisy and a lack of realism, my point is merely to show the human paradigm in which we live: it’s that such patterns and their various guises are so engrained in our psyche that they infiltrate their ways into all parts of society.
Quite frankly, at times we just can’t help ourselves. In the case of the minority of bankers who contributed to the global financial crisis, presented with a system that rewarded short-term success over long-term performance, together with the creation of the very instruments that had the ability to cause widespread financial destruction, the end result was simply chaos and fear that we have not seen since the Great Depression.
The failure of neo-liberalism and the inevitable market failures have been widely recognised since the crisis and much has been done to address the causes, both in terms of banking regulation and remuneration. However, the next scandal or crisis is only a matter of time, whether it be in global finance or elsewhere. Where there is an opportunity to exploit or to take advantage, humans will do it.
Practices like yoga acknowledge the weaknesses of the human condition. We do not suppress or deny them, but allow them to be, which with a mindful attitude, can be effective in diffusing the manifestation of whatever desire presents itself.
Easier said than done, but much of yoga is about the values that we ascribe to the relationship with ourself and others (i.e. the Yamas and Niyamas). The fact that such foundations have been described as a way to leading a meaningful and fulfilling life means that in the first place:
the very base from which we exist is one that is full of temptation.
After all, the Lord’s Prayer of the Christian religion states that:
“lead us not into temptation…”
Buddhism also describes a similar way in its 8 fold path.
In this regard, we can conclude that the inherent weaknesses and failures of mankind which arise in ordinary situations are not unique to those who work in Finance, but rather arise in our very ordinary human existence.
If we view it this way, compassion is the only logical outcome. Fighting ‘fire with fire’ and an ‘eye for an eye’ only prolongs suffering and will never extinguish our deadly sins. If we choose to practice compassion, forgiveness and view our capacity to sin as a mere indicator of the human condition, then we can come to see bankers in a different light – rather than being ostracised and demonised, being considered to be very real… and very HUMAN.
“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”
― Dalai Lama XIV