I've spent the last few days watching the chaos in Washington and listening to the presidential debate, wondering where the crates of brains are being hidden. We have foxes negotiating over how to best stop the bleeding in the hen house and it is portrayed as if the failing financial companies and individual mortgage holders are entitled to being pulled out of a hole that they are somehow not responsible for.
Then this morning the answer hit me. We went to my son's soccer game. They practice hard and really work on passing and shooting skills. The defenders on the team are taught to get the ball as far away from their own goal as possible. Control risk, wait for opportunity, and strike when the iron is hot...or in this case, when the other goalie falls down. As a result of practicing the basic tenants of soccer, our team won, shutting out the opponent 4-0. If you know anything about soccer (and believe me, I tried to steer them to a sport more enjoyable from the stands...) you know that a 4-0 score is like 100-3 in football...it was not even close. When the game ended, the fans from the other team walked out on the field, spread out in two lines, joined hands across the void and said "c'mon everyone, lets form the tunnel!" To their credit, only one of the kids walked through it while the grown-ups all yelled "woot! woot!" (that's a verbatim quote) over and over. My wife and I stood there in stunned silence as we watched this incredible celebration of failure. My wife named it the "Tunnel of Affirmation", to which I had to fight back laughter to keep the condescending stares of the losing side's bridge supports from focusing on me.
I am not trying to make fun of a kid losing a game. Losing is a part of life. I have felt the pain of losing and it can be terrible. But if we never feel that pain, then we never learn how not to lose the next time. If everyone walks through the Tunnel of Affirmation or gets a trophy at the end of the season regardless of accomplishment then we never learn what it takes to succeed. We only learn that we are entitled to praise and affirmation just because we exist, and while this would be an enjoyable way to live, it just doesn't prepare kids for real life, which is what we as parents are supposed to do.
So what does this have to do with the current state of affairs? Well, when people don't understand winning or losing you get all of the participants in this mess. First, you have people who don't think they should need to pay their bills on time in order to be trusted for a six figure loan on a house. When they lost their soccer game, they walked through the Tunnel of Affirmation. Then you have government types that think its unfair to deny mortgages to those people, regardless of what those risks mean to the solvency of the lending bank. When they lost their soccer game, they walked through the Tunnel of Affirmation. Those loans are bought up by people at FNM and FRE who think that because the taxpayer is guaranteeing them that they can use the system as their own personal penny bank without regard for the principles of risk management. When they lost their soccer game, they walked through the Tunnel of Affirmation. When those loans are defaulted on, the very politicians who created this environment of subprime lending, act indignant and blame the free market for it. When they lost their soccer game, they walked through the Tunnel of Affirmation.
No one wants to be held responsible for their actions anymore. They don't want to be held accountable. They want to win even when they don't deserve it. I am almost certain its because when they lost their soccer game, they walked through the Tunnel of Affirmation.