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The Stress of It All is Becoming Dangerous

[Editor's Note: today's blog post is by guest author William Seebeck. I've known Bill for decades, going back to our time working together at Lexis-Nexis in Dayton, Ohio during the 1980's. Bill has a wealth of experience in online systems, banking, publishing, and public relations.]

By Bill Seebeck

It seems that not a day goes by during these most difficult financial times when we don't hear a story about people "losing it". Just this week, a young man apparently took his life. He was the acting chief financial officer of Freddie Mac whose stated mission is to help stabilize residential mortgage markets in the United States. The Treasury Department took over the company last September. He was only 41.

That story was followed up by another in which it was reported that a lawyer mother ordered her two daughters out of the car because they were yelling too much and wouldn't quiet down. I checked up on the mother and found that she is a skilled senior attorney whose specialty is law that governs banking and other lending institutions with particular emphasis on the very issues being faced by, we the people, and our Treasury Department.

No matter what else was going on in the lives of these two individuals, I recognized in them, one of the real threats to the health and welfare of the American people.


Every day, in addition to whatever we've had to previously bear, we are now faced with losing our jobs, keeping our homes, feeding ourselves and our children not to mention the loss of dreams of retirement, college education and just a plain better life.  This folks results in stress and it has a profound impact on us.

According to a 1996 article in Psychology Today, "When stresses become routine, the constant biochemical pounding takes its toll on the body; the system starts to wear out at an accelerated rate. By responding to the stress of everyday life with the same surge of biochemicals released during major threats, the body is slowly killing itself. The biochemical onslaught chips away at the immune system, opening the way to cancer, infection, and disease. Hormones unleashed by stress eat at the digestive tract and lungs, promoting ulcers and asthma. Or they may weaken the heart, leading to strokes and heart disease."

"Chronic stress is like slow poison," [Jean] King [Ph.D. of the University of Massachusetts Medical School] observes. "It is a fact of modern life that even people who are not sensitized to stress are adversely affected by everything that can go wrong in the day."

This is another reason why I have been so worried about the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am not concerned about the professionalism of our armed forces but I am concerned about the constant stress that four or five years of combat, four, five, six 12 and 15 month deployments have had on our service people and their families. And don't think that bravado will overcome it. It will not. Examine the increasing suicide rate among the military and you will find that we have a problem that can't be swept under a rug.

Watch the way people drive these days, listen to the concerns we share with one another. We as a nation are worried and stressed. Our institutions have failed us and our social contract has been broken. Now we can fix it, but there must be more relief given directly to the people in order that the stress of it all doesn't endanger us in ways we have never yet experienced as a society.

What do you think?

Copyright 2009 WBSeebeck


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matt @ Thrive

One of the more poignant things said here, and we've been discussing it a great deal at Thrive the past few months, is the idea of the social contract, and specifically the idea of banking institutions as social institutions. I started to write that "banking has become a business" but in reality, it always was: lending money is one of the world's oldest financial professions, and banks were founded to institutionalize that.

But that institutionalization was supposed to bring with it better lending and better banking for people that needed it. The banks rose as systems that we came to rely on to allow for social movement, which is critical to any successful society, and arguably funded some of the most important human advances on a cultural level. I don't think it is a stretch to say that the middle class, to which all should aspire, is largely a class funded by the advent of banks.

And yet here were are, with our legs cut out from under us. The people we trusted to facilitate our movement, to help us climb the social ladder, send our kids to college, put us in decent homes, protect us during downturns and profit with us in upswings, decided that instead of mapping to our lives, they would extort the ability to redraw the boundaries. Instead of climbing the social ladder, banks became an agent of forcing people into poverty, not helping people out of it. They sent our kids to college with the promise of an education that would earn them huge rewards, then ransomed their futures as soon as they received their diplomas. Instead of rising and falling with us, they were content to rise and keep on rising, on the backs of a few rich and millions of piled up poor.

Thrive has always strived to be responsible and we always push for that with every financial institution we talk to. And that, I think, is where hope comes in. I left academia because the founders of Thrive came to me and said "we're going to make things better". I believed them, and I still do, and I watch them struggle to do that every day. Consumers need to know that there are companies fighting for them. It is 2:30 in the morning and I'm beat, but I'm still here, trying to send out a little beacon.

And we aren't alone. There are other companies and people within banks that are struggling to make things better. Credit unions are doing more and stepping up to restore faith in smaller institutions. Young stars and older advisers are rising in power at large institutions, working hard to correct the mistakes of those who came before and to renew the social contract and the faith that we should be able to have in our banks. People are fighting for consumers every day and I wish we could do more to show that, to help us remember as a country that uniquely American way of coming together to solve a problem.

We will do more. We will do better. Give us your trust, and we will show you that we deserve it. But you have to help us. Seek out companies that are doing the right things. Get involved in financial literacy. Teach your children. Tell us what we are doing wrong so that we can do right, tell us what you need so that we can find ways to meet those needs, tell us your plans for the future so that we can make them a reality.

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