I read a newspaper article recently about a group of investors who lost a great deal of money with a real estate investment firm. An investment firm, that by definition was managing and acquiring a variety of speculative real estate ventures. The firm is now in bankruptcy, with lawsuits pending in two counties, the ongoing obligations of taxes and maintenance of the properties, not to mention no further influx of investor cash. The news article alluded to some possible fault or mismanagement of the executive at the helm.
Really, people lost money in real estate in the past five years? You would have to live on Mars to not know and expect that turn of events.
As I recently sat through a morning calendar in an Orange County courtroom, I watched an attorney argue vigorously that a spouse who had been awarded the family home, had a duty to continue paying and pay off a second mortgage, on a house that had been short-sold or foreclosed upon, in order to protect the credit rating of his client, the spouse who was not awarded the house. Essentially, requesting spouse be an absolute guarantor to the other spouse. The judge cited, more than once, that the Judgment in that case was entered five years prior and that the house was gone. Each spouse got his/her bargained for exchange, along with whatever risk and benefits came with it, but now with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, someone has buyers remorse, as well as the energy and disposable funds to march in and complain about it.
Five years later?? If there was no order to refinance the debt into the sole name of the recipient spouse, the client who is out, and still on that outstanding second loan is most certainly on the hook still, as to the lender. The family law judgment does not have jurisdiction over creditors. First year divorce lawyer stuff. Civil Procedure? WHO does the court have jurisdiction over? First year law student stuff. Come on.
Periodically, on the court days that we call Mandatory Settlement Conferences, parties (not surprisingly), as they stare down the barrel at a trial date, become far more flexible in their positions and their overall willingness to compromise. What I have observed is that it is very easy to be courageous and bold in the safety of my office, on the phone or in an email, but once we are at court, with the prospect of that stranger in the black robe taking a few minutes to decide a litigants’ future, they become far more in tune to what result they can and can not live with, and cases settle.
However, that weary litigant, home after a long hard day of hammering this out in the courthouse cafeteria, then has to answer to a plethora of their cheerleaders, Mother, Father, sister, brother, significant other. All of whom have been this litigant’s emotional and sometimes financial support, crying shoulder, sympathetic ear, and confidante. This group, not in any way happy to hear of a settlement with that dirtbag of an Ex. Didn’t your lawyer fight for you? How could this happen? You were so mistreated during your marriage. This is not right. This is not fair. You need to change this. Back in the safety of life where the delusions and denial are all accepted part of the norm, weary litigant is wondering what happened and fully forgets the earlier pleas to his/her lawyer, “I juuuuust want this DONE.
It must be the lawyers fault. That lawyer didn’t do enough, didn’t care enough, didn’t know enough, was afraid, unprepared, liked the other side better than you…..the list is long.
When I was in middle school I had a typing teacher (It was in olden days when there were typewriters that didn’t even plug in) who saw it as his platform to teach life lessons. His theory and philosophy of that class was that everything, every single thing, event, incident, outcome, in your life is a result of your choice. With that, he gave us a contract and told us to pick our grade for his class. If we abided by the terms of the contract we would receive the grade we selected. That lecture stayed with me, I took it to heart and believed it. It was much like what my grandmother was trying to teach me everyday. Somehow I got it.
I have learned that a whole bunch of people wandering around in the world never got this lecture. Our collective ability to accept responsibility for our circumstances is abysmally low.
How about this one: It’s not my fault, I voted for that other guy.
In taking the temperature of our society, we can not escape the fact that we re-elected a leader, whose mantra has been, “it is the other guys fault”. Those who did not support this lemming like rush to the fiscal cliff, have now as their mantra, “I did not vote for THAT guy”. Really? Your one vote? You did NOT support this result, so you are off the hook? What effort did you put forth for YOUR guy?
The process worked. We all got the result from the last Presidential election that we deserved. The result that we collectively earned. Before you go raving off, just let that sink in for a moment.
A leader reflects some level of collective identity, and this one (Our current Commander in Chief), at his foundation, is that of non-responsibility. I can’t tell if the personna of the leader of the free world is the beginning or the end of this attitude, but you can not deny it certainly is the culmination, a social mirror of sorts, that we are all looking into. Denial permeates all of this behavior, ‘it is not my fault’ is the battle cry. With denial, usually comes delusion, and the ‘Kumbayah’, if we all hold hands and wear Birkenstocks and give out more free stuff we will all be as one, like the “Give the world a Coke” commercials from my childhood.
How pathetic. We are not The Great Generation. If they were here with us, and if those few who still are, were cognizant of these things, they would be ashamed of us. I know my Grandmothers would be. Nothing is easy. Nothing is free. I am in charge of myself. These were their attitudes, their battle cry.
My paternal grandmother told me of times when she was picking cotton, she took her four children with her to help, and the baby was swaddled to her chest while she worked and minded the children. She would be shocked and appalled to hear some of the stories I hear of young mothers who refuse to work because they have a baby. I wonder why these mothers have come to the place they believe it is okay to live with their parents, and not work while they collect a check from the father or the government. In no way does in occur to some of these girls that they are not meeting their moral obligations as a parent.
If my maternal grandmother were here, she certainly would have mastered that art of extreme couponing, because she was the Queen of the Blue Chip stamp. Well into my adult hood she would remind me of the critical things she purchased for my life with the strategizing of her blue chip stamps. She got my first high chair at the Blue Chip stamp store. She collected Christmas glasses from Arby’s, and went there often enough on the holidays to get me 12 of those glasses. (I use them proudly every Christmas) She reminded me daily that on the reservation where she grew up, her bathroom was outside the home as there was no running water and running water is something you should never take for granted. Everything had consequences, and no one had the right to complain about their circumstances, but everyone had the right to go out and do something about it.
Our societal ills are not going to be cured or even treated with the proliferation of platform, or policies, or any more dogma. We have to start looking at the problem as a personal one. As long as you are pointing a finger, you are the problem. We each have our own cross to bear, and they come in many shapes and sizes. Being American does not entitle you to anything except an opportunity to become something. Being an investor, like being a gambler, only entitles you to profit if your numbers come up right. Being a spouse does not entitle you to support for life, guarantee insulation from financial risk or emotional pain, you are entitled to share in the gains and the losses. Being a litigant entitles you to a trial, to a determination, from another human being in a black robe of whether you are wrong or right, and you might be found to be wrong. In which case, you have the right to bear the costs of being wrong, and paying for services that you contracted for. You have the right to parent a child, if you desire to and are able. You have an obligation to support that child.
What we control in our world is our response, to everything. The greatest thinkers on the planet have learned, experienced and taught this. Nelson Mandela, DeePak Chopra, Viktor Frankl, have all promoted or espoused some form of this. You can choose joy over misery. You can find peace and pleasure in the fact that the sun came up today, or you can choose aggravation over a flat tire, traffic jam or some other inconvenience. The seed of opportunity always exists, to choose a response that edifies you and multiplies positive energy in your surroundings, or you can kill it by fostering negativity and feeding an attitude of lack.
No rights are absolute. No privileges are limitless. No one owes you anything. We have become so enamored with our blessings and confused them with entitlements, we have forgotten about what we are obligated to. We should start applying the simple philosophy of Viktor Frankl to our lives, which is that the only thing you can control in the world is your response to your surroundings. Own your choices, think carefully about what our obligations are. To not make matters worse? To not bring harm or cause misery to others? To take care of ourselves? If we choose our responses carefully, then the outcome is no one’s “fault”, it just is.
(Original publishing March 3, 2013)