On being ... urgent

By Ingrid Sapona

It’s just after 10 a.m. on September 30, 2008. That means the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) has been open for a little over half an hour. At this moment, according to the NYSE’s web site, the Dow is up 195. It’s anybody’s guess what the markets will be when I finish writing this, but I’ll let you know.

Oh, before I forget – Happy New Year! Yes, it’s the Jewish New Year. A time for celebration, for reflecting on the past year, for making resolutions, etc. It’s also an opportunity for the U.S. Congress to take a few days to chill out, regroup, or whatever, after defeating the financial bailout package yesterday.

Now, I know this will shock you, but I’m kind of relieved that Congress defeated the bill. It’s not that I’m against the bailout – it really isn’t. The simple truth is, I don’t know enough about the whole financial mess – or the proposal that was defeated – to be in favour or against it at this point. (Sadly, I don’t have much faith that even a handful of the 433 members of the House or Representatives do either, but that’s another story.)

The reason I’m relieved about the outcome of the vote is because I’m not in favour of rushing into things (especially things with price tags with an extraordinary number of zeros on them!). This fiscal crisis – and I do believe it is a crisis – is (fill in your descriptor(s) of choice) worrisome, troubling, and frightening – but panicking won’t help, nor will non-stop warning of dire consequences, or artificial deadlines for negotiating deals or passing legislation.

All the news the past few weeks about the pending collapse of this or that institution and the need for the government to act swiftly have gotten me thinking about the nature of “urgency”. Before I go on (no, I’m not going to update you on the stock market again!), I have to tell you that I’m a firm believer that there are some things in life that are urgent. I think it’s important to say this up front because my belief in the idea of immediate action has informed various important actions I’ve taken in my life.

Put another way, I believe that swift action can be the difference between life and death. The best examples I can give relate to getting my father to the hospital on a number of occasions in the last few years of his life. Unlike my father, who didn’t seem to believe it mattered whether someone got medical help within the first few hours of an apparent heart attack or stroke, I have always believed that, in certain circumstances, every second counts. So, there were a handful of times those last few years where I took the “do not pass Go” route directly to emerg with Dad.

I can also think of urgent situations that humans can prepare for, but not really control. Giving birth is a good example. When those contractions start you’ll want to try to get to the hospital as quickly as possible (or at least get the midwife over), but it’s going to pretty much happen when it happens. The same thing is true with certain natural disasters, like hurricanes. We might know they’re coming and so swift action (whether it’s boarding up the windows or getting out of town) can help, but the storm will come regardless.

It seems to me that man-made crises – like the financial turmoil we’re in – are different, and so is the nature of the “urgency”. In this case, while complete inaction might prove fatal, taking a few extra days (or maybe even weeks) will not result in irreparable harm. The fact that someone set a deadline and that deadline has come and gone with no solution is not the end of the world. Indeed, given the complexity of the problem, maybe we should all be thanking our lucky stars for the defeat, as it gives people time to analyze the problem and try to come up with a well-reasoned, appropriate, workable solution – one that we won’t have to spend years trying to unravel!

It’s just after 3 p.m. – less than an hour before the market closes. FYI, the Dow is up 365. Does that make you feel better? Me either, because I know it can swing back and forth so many times before the close of the day, I get dizzy just thinking about it.

And finally, for those who are swept up in the idea that the most urgent problem facing the world right now is the financial crisis, I say look around at all those suffering through war, famine, and disease. Kind of makes our financial woes seem less urgent, doesn’t it?

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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