There is a heart-warming story in the June issue of National Geographic magazine titled – “The Last Voices of World War II.”  The article includes the touching story of Betty Webb, age 97, who joined the British Intelligence at age 18, working during the war at a highly-classified location called Bletchley Park, where a team of extraordinary British intelligence personnel broke the German and Japanese codes.  By joining the secret operations there, she knew she would never be able to tell anyone, even her family, what she did during the war.  Despite that vow of silence, Webb enjoyed the job. As she put it, “I wanted to do something more for the war effort than bake sausage rolls.”  In my view, it was that attitude and the incredible sacrifice and courage of the British people that held off the Nazi’s during the early years of the war.

As I read Betty Webb’s story and others like it, this question came to mind – What is the most significant job each of us can do to help our country overcome the challenges we face today?  In short, what would be a Bletchley-Park-worthy job we could take on?

In our battle against Covid, nurses and doctors rise to the occasion every day.  In a time of ongoing civil unrest, police officers and other public servants are stepping into harm’s way as well.  Workers in stores and restaurants throughout the country, who wear uncomfortable masks all day, to protect others, are also sacrificing for the greater good.

And that brings me to the central topic of this first edition of Exencial Views – the Greater Good. What does that really mean today?  With the pandemic on everyone’s mind most people are just tying to stay safe.  Self-preservation is our primary focus and understandably so.  In this period of isolation have we lost sight of the greater good?

For almost every current issue, economic or social, there are numerous viewpoints, but too few public discussions about the greater good.  With four months to go before the November election, we remain politically polarized, with each side fighting, first and foremost, to keep the other side from wining.

Yet, off-camera, out of the spotlight, there is a growing sense of solidarity.  People are balancing the need for social distancing with the equally important need to feel connected.  Serving or sacrificing for the greater good cannot be accomplished in isolation.  Politicians and the mainstream media seem fixated on keeping us polarized and angry.  Despite this, individuals and communities can and are reconnecting and together are finding ways to do more for the war effort than bake sausage rolls.

The path from solidarity to positive change is a process.  To begin with, every issue, whether economic or social, must be analyzed comprehensively.  All sides of the debate must be heard, researched, and evaluated.  Intended and unintended consequences of every potential course of action must be thoroughly discussed and measured.  Mutual respect must always be adhered to by all.  It’s really not that difficult. It just takes a little practice, and a sense of servant leadership.

We have an attitude challenge in our country today.  On one hand, there are those that believe the best days of our country are behind us.  They magnify our nation’s faults without appreciating all that we have accomplished.  They are fearful and mistrustful of institutions and their fellow man and contend that capitalism is inherently unjust, if not evil.   

On the other hand, others are excited about the future. They believe that innovation and entrepreneurialism can eventually solve every problem. Specifically, that science will produce a vaccine and we will end the pandemic. They prefer to oversee their own destiny and understand that there is no such thing as a level playing field.  Despite this they are confident that all obstacles can be overcome through hard work and determination.

Negativity can exist, perhaps even thrive in isolation.  Optimism can only thrive in community.  It is our free will to choose either attitude, as individuals and as a country.  Is there a position of compromise and relative safety somewhere in between?  Interesting question, and perhaps there is, but as the battle rages, neutrality becomes increasingly elusive.

Michael Kayes, CFA

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