We Need To Bring Back Losing
I first wrote this post back during the economic meltdown but I think the issues addressed are as important now as they were back then. In my work as an attorney I often deal with the financial woes of my clients and was writing about two very interesting encounters.
The first came from a younger client, in his mid to late 20’s who had graduated from college and started working at a high paying job right out of school. He and his girlfriend had traveled as they wanted, bought a nice house, etc. In general they’d had the dream life from the start.
Then as the economy slumped he lost his job and couldn’t find a new one. In discussing this problem with me he seemed almost mystified that there wasn’t just a new job waiting for him. Now facing the probable loss of his home he wanted to know if there was some legal way of getting rid of his mortgage while still keeping his house. When I told him this was not possible he wanted to know ‘why hasn’t the government done something to solve this problem’.
The second client was older, in his late 40’s or early 50’s. He had also gone to college but when he graduated he started out at an entry level job and had worked his way up. He also had been laid off and due to his age the chances of a new job with similar wages were slim at best. He was also facing a loss of much of his retirement savings and he was in danger of losing his house.
In short his situation was probably worse than my first client because he didn’t have a lifetime to earn everything that he had lost back. If he loses his house the odds are he’ll never own one again. He will also have less of a chance of rebuilding his retirement.
Obviously he was not happy with the situation but he was much more reflective about things. He almost seemed embarrassed to be doing the bankruptcy and expressed dismay at not paying his creditors. When I assured him that the laws were designed to help people and that it wasn’t his fault he was in trouble he was comforted somewhat but he still did not seem happy.
I related to him that I had other clients, often much younger, who were far more bitter and yet had more of a chance of rebuilding their lives. His response was a simple one. He said ‘we need to bring back the idea that losing is ok’.
It wasn’t that he was happy about his situation or that he felt it was fair. But he did have the once common attitude that you don’t win every game and sometimes bad things happen. Sadly that seems to be an increasingly uncommon attitude in a world where everybody gets a trophy, everybody gets an A in school, nobody fails. In listening to the man discuss how he was willing to accept the real world and move on I was quite impressed.
In looking at society as a whole I am increasingly concerned that the ‘nobody should ever fail’ attitude is becoming far to common. When you look at the mortgage mess there are many people who face the loss of their homes. You see investors who face the loss of their investment in mortgage backed securities. All of these things are bad but that doesn’t mean they should not happen.
People bought houses knowing they might not be able to afford them but hoping the value would go up. Investors in the securities did the same, investing in a product and hoping that the investment would grow. They took a gamble and they lost. Had the value of the homes gone up the buyers certainly would not have given the bank more money, nor should they have. They took the risk so they deserved the reward. But they also must accept the risk of loss.
Yet to listen to Washington these days the attitude seems to be that we have to somehow protect the homeowner, protect the investor and make sure nobody loses anything. The same holds true for the investment houses and banks who took risks and lost. We seem to be telling them that they can gamble and if they lose we will bail them out.
Again, I do not wish to diminish the losses people have suffered but the fact is people have lost and failed from the beginning of time. My life is pretty good but there are certainly things that I don’t like about it and there have been plenty of losses. I’m willing to bet the same is true for most of you. We managed to move beyond the losses and I think it’s time we recognize that this is how society works.