If You Ask Me: A Global Banker Reflects on Our Times
Wriston, Walter B.
The Big Cop-out
One of the things that bother me at the moment is that the value system of our times has been transferred from the individual to the institution. Years ago, individuals had values--old-fashioned values if you want--and they didn't expect institutions to mirror those values. Today, the exact opposite is the case. We have the "now" or the "need" generation of entitlement, and the expectation is that all institutions have the old values, whether it be business or universities or governments, Congress or the Presidency or whatever.
These institutions are not supposed to be rip-off artists. They're supposed to be honest. They're supposed to have all the old virtues that individuals once had, while individuals now have a completely value-free system. But I would suggest to you that institutions don't have morality. Only individuals have morality. The individual is the centerpiece of American democracy. The Constitution even gave us, as individuals, rights against the state. That was truly revolutionary.
So, because individuals operate all our institutions, we are developing a dichotomy in this country, which I think will be a significant problem in the years ahead.
Think about it: A clerk from Bloomingdale's on her lunch hour will come in and give a hard time to one of our tellers with Excedrin headache number two, who has three kids under five and a babysitter who didn't show. Bloomingdale's clerk is going to go out and say, "That damn Citibank is a rip-off'."
At five o'clock the same teller goes over to Bloomingdale's to buy a pair of shoes and gets ticked off because the point-of-sale terminal doesn't work, the clerk doesn't know how to fill out a sales ticket, and they're out of her shoe size. She goes home and says, "Damn Bloomingdale's! They don't care about people. They don't have any corporate value system. They're a giant rip-off."
And they're both right.
So, it comes back to the individual. Only an individual can innovate. Only an individual can be honest. Only an individual can have a sense of morality. If you get a bunch of individuals together and you put them in a university or a magazine or a bank or a corporation, and the leadership is such that the individuals know the value system is correct, you will spread it throughout the organization. People will say that that corporation or that university or that magazine treats people in an honest way.
But there's vast confusion over the transfer that has taken place in this generation from demanding individual responsibility, of which there is no other kind, to sloughing it off onto an institution.
Everybody wants institutions, per se, to have those values that they themselves don't have. It's the first time, I think, this has happened.