A Cultural Lesson from Marley’s Ghost


As the holidays approach rapidly, I am sensing a strange, ghostly feeling in the air. At our house this season, we have been talking about these turbulent times that we live in and the misplaced importance on material possessions.

Some days, it seems that our entire world is upside down and inside out. The more people I talk to, the more I get the feeling that we are all in a cultural recovery; trying to make sense in the economic aftermath of too much consumerism, greed, and corruption.

In his essay, “The Quiet Storm,” Sam Smith points out that there has been a corporatization of our culture, where our language and values reflect business-based morality and ethics (instead of the other way around). Smith states:

“Among the values of this corporate culture is the elevation of managers and salespersons to iconic status. Fifty years ago this would have been considered a joke, but today it is widely accepted. Inherent in this bizarre value system is the inference that those who make or create things are less important than those who manage or sell them. In other words, as a matter of government, economic, and intellectual policy, the content of our culture is no longer as important as how well it can be marketed. Any culture with such priorities does not have a long life expectancy.”

So, instead of bringing our values, morals, and ethics to bear on business, we have been looking to government and industry to tell us what is right, fair, and socially permissible. That seems quite upside down to me — and kind of scary too.

The good news is that people are wising up. Many people are tired of being lied to, cheated, and told, “that’s just how things are.”

Smith warns us with the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“From the conclusion of this war we shall be going downhill. It will not then be necessary to resort every moment to the people for support. They will be forgotten, therefore, and their rights disregarded. They will forget themselves, but in the sole faculty of making money, and will never think of uniting to effect a due respect for their rights. The shackles, therefore, which shall not be knocked off at the conclusion of this war, will remain on us long, and will be made heavier and heavier, till our rights shall revive or expire in a convulsion.”

So maybe this holiday season, we should treat the words of Smith and Jefferson like Marley’s Ghost in “A Christmas Carol.” We have the time and opportunity to focus on what’s important — our family, friends and the rest of the human beings around us. Maybe if we do that, we can set our culture right-side up again, where we are driving business instead of business driving us.