All Great Failures Are…

Dad’s mentor, Fred Smith (, said that “all great failures are moral failures.” When I first heard the explanation to this statement by Fred it made perfect sense. We all know the stories of very successful athletes, business people, politicians, and religious leaders who take a great moral fall. Drugs, lying, stealing from their companies and cheating on their spouses result in losing their reputation as well as their wealth, and often destroy their key relationships, impacting the lives of everyone around them. Pride, greed, and the desire for instant gratification cause people to make morally bad decisions, and these decisions destroy them and oftentimes many others.

Now that we are going through an economic meltdown as a country and as a world, I started to consider Fred’s statement on a much larger basis. Is this great economic failure really a moral failure? The more I hear and read, the more convinced I am that it is. Choosing debt to support a lifestyle driven by instant gratification is a moral failure. Well-intentioned do-gooders who create policies that allow people to purchase things they cannot afford are ultimately moral failures. Spending money we don’t have is ultimately a moral failure. A society that says “go ahead and get it now, everybody is doing it,” is a society that justifies their own moral shortcomings by getting everyone to participate.

This economic meltdown that we are all experiencing is not a technical glitch, it is the direct result of many morally bad decisions piling up until, by their own weight, they can only come crashing down.

So here is the real challenge we face as a nation. The way out of this mess is not a series of technically creative political and financial policies. The way out is realizing we have to make good, sound moral decisions around money. Debt is bad. People are not entitled to things they cannot pay for. Hard work is the solution. Living on less than you make builds character, lessens risk, and provides a foundation of rock, not sand, for your future.

This all seems so simple, even too simple, but the truth is really always pretty simple, we just don’t like to admit it. Ultimately, to recognize that this economic collapse is really because of breaking moral laws means that we, and our leaders, must recognize that there is a moral law-giver. The bully pulpit in our country right now is controlled by the media and the politicians. They fancy themselves as the moral law-givers, and they certainly don’t recognize a truly moral law-giver unless they agree with him!

Never forget: Just because you are of the opinion that something is not true doesn’t mean that you won’t be governed by it if it is true. When people and countries make enough morally bad decisions, failure is a certainty. Here is the good news. The opposite is also true!

Explore posts in the same categories: Business, debt, economy, Faith, performance

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9 Comments on “All Great Failures Are…”

  1. Greg Robie Says:

    Got here from Twitter and a search on the term “collapse.” BTW, and probably because Igor Panarin gave a speech about the collapse of the US that this term is generating tweets much faster than the term “downturn.” In any event, as you think more about this, consider whether any good can come from a system of wealth that is enabled by fiat currencies that are denominated in debt that is created for the purpose of usury.

    Igor’s point that another reserve currency can replace the US dollar is something I can find almost no reporting or discussion on, but is a threat to the US of the greatest magnitude. This is because the “good” in the US economy, prior to this unfolding collapse, was enabled by the Saudi’s commitment to President Nixon to denominate OPEC oil sales in US dollars in return for security assurances. Most of what is imoral about US foreign policy relates to either honoring/preserving this dynamic or is enabled due to it.

    To be/become moral, doesn’t repentance (metanoia) need to be embraced? Isn’t such a change in thinking dependent on a poverty of spirit, if not material poverty itself? To the degree this is true, the good news is that we moving toward such a condition both as individuals and a society. We are doing so at a rate that makes the salvation of our society possible within the time frame Panarin speculates about. And it will collapse because we have not been moral. We have not done environmental, social, and economic justice, loved being merciful, nor walked humbly.

  2. I agree, Tom. I believe that much of the economic trouble we’re in is due to a moral failure: good old fashioned greed. Our definition of poor has expanded a lot here in the US. Poor now includes a group of people who have big screen TVs, monstrous SUVs or trucks and cannot afford to pay for them. The working poor, I’ve heard them called on TV. Driving around here in West Texas, I see so many run down neighborhoods with $30,000 to $50,000 vehicles parked out in the front yard of a $50,000 hous. And those prized vehicles are parked at angles, in the lawn, as to make it difficult for the repo man to hook up to their four wheeled investment. In my opinion, that’s theft. In the area of the country where I live, I see many choosing to sell their future for a few luxuries now. I believe that’s a moral failure.

  3. Dani Woods Says:

    Thank you for succinctly phrasing what I have been saying to everyone I know! We have moved to the corporate society, and corporations have no morals. what we see is the psychological experiment of the 1960’s gone bad; the one which demonstrated that a group will act violently together, but as individuals, the subjects would not increase their violence. Hiding behind the corporation allows some who would never think of stealing, urging people to overspend, or other greedy tasks as individuals. Lack of contentment coupled with envy has made us a greedy society, one with a sliding sense of morality.

  4. Tom,

    This post is very interesting. Some points you make I agree with and others, perhaps not.

    For example, you note “Spending money we don’t have is ultimately a moral failure.” My question is where does the moral failure lie? Is it with the individual who spends more than he has? Is with mortgage loan companies who make loans that they shouldn’t? Is it with credit card companies who offer people them unsecured credit, and at the same time encourage people in their advertising to spend, spend, spend? Is it the government who tells citizens that we essentially need to go out and spend because we are a “consumer economy,” and so making it almost a moral obligation to do so? Or is it all of the above?

    Anyway, your post is very thought provoking, and I’m glad I had the chance to read it.

    Patrick Murdock
    Clayton, NC

  5. Tom Ziglar Says:

    Patrick – thanks for your reply. I think everyone is to blame and has skin in the game. Individuals, companies, the government – all have played a hand in the problem. Through the years I have watched several people be “weird” and live a debt free lifestyle forgoing vacations and driving old beat up cars. These people were often made fun of by their families and co-workers. Now those same people, the ones without the house payment, are the role models! Like Dave Ramsey says “The foreclosure rate on a paid for house is ZERO”. What I think most people don’t understand is that when it comes it comes to money, how you handle it is really a moral issue. When buying things we have many choices, all with different degrees of risk. When you trade what you want in the long term for what you want now, take on risk, and give up your freedom and flexibility, you have made some morally bad decisions. The thing that I can’t figure out is why so many people have bought into the idea that we can “fix” the problems with “magic” by creating out of thin air dollars, and by borrowing even more. Somebody told me years ago that financial security has nothing to do with how much you make, but everything to do with how much you spend and save. The tragedy today is so many people who played the game fairly and who did not borrow to much are paying for the sins of everyone else. Thanks again for your comments!

  6. Ed Davis Says:

    Nice post.
    You mentioned two problems, one being that many live beyond their means, and two, the Bully Pulpit being controlled by the media and politicians. It really seems clear on how to fix the first problem, not how to fix the second problem. Your thoughts?
    By the way, your dad is the greatest!

  7. Chuck Sink Says:

    One of the most disturbing of national moral failings is the cult-like following of the President, especially by the media. Millions of people are putting all of their ultimate trust in a man, not God. The man promises policies (that destroy ambition and personal responsibility) rather than calling on the greatness and potential of the people themselves to be better stewards of their own gifts and destinies. It is inarguable that we have a corrupt bunch in Washington now. Whomever the president and congressional leaders are in America; they are not the problem. They are only symptoms of the soul sickness of the people who elected them.

  8. My husband first enlightened me with Zig’s words of widsdom. I had never actually heard of him (sorry) until my husband gave me a book to read written by him. Boy, what was I missing?! All I can say is that I am glad you are unique however the world needs more of you out there. Especially now. You have made a huge impact not only on me but on I am sure millions around the world. You are absolutely right when it comes to this country especially having their priorities turned upside down and making instant gratification a priority, what a mess we are now in. I am blessed to know that you are out there to help us realize there is so much more out there in life. My husband and I thank you so much for all you do. Please continue the great works that you do. And it sounds like your son Tom is on his way as well to make a huge impact in this world. Forever fan and follower, Catherine and John

  9. Holly Says:

    Terrific post and comments. I was doing my Bible study, and the question came up: What is moral failure? As I thought about it, of course the obvious answer (especially in light of the chapter being on David and Bathsheba) is sexual sin and murder. But what about the attitudes that lie behind those–pride, envy, desire, arrogance, greed, etc?

    If a life is characterized by those attitudes and actions that consistently contribute to the harm of others in some way, to me this is just as significantly moral failure as short term events that may be “out of character” for the person.

    Are economic choices moral choices? Most certainly! We would all agree that a man who spends his paycheck gambling or drinking instead of providing food for the family and paying the bills would be an example of moral failure. What is the difference between a “corporate man” (Congress) gambling on the future of this country without listening to the needs and desires of the citizens for their well-being.

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