Swimming naked (when the tide has gone out!)

Is it time to rediscover values?

23 March 2010, by Tracey Swanepoel

JOHANNESBURG - Do you ever wonder what world leaders talk about when they get behind closed doors?

By all reports just a few weeks ago at the World Economic Forum in Davos they were talking about "swimming naked".

"Swimming naked" refers to a much-quoted Warren "Buffettism" ...."You only find out who has been swimming naked when the tide has gone out".

A key theme at Davos this year was the extent to which the wrong values or no values at all had played a role in the tide going out - the current global economic crisis.

Whereas Davos 2009 was dominated by the question of: "When will this crisis be over?" (CNN actually had a whiteboard on which each CEO could write his/her view on when the economic crisis would finally end), this year the question had evolved to "how will this crisis change us?"

Discussions about values that previously had respectable sidebar status at Davos suddenly became mainstream, packed to the rafters and attended by global business leaders and politicians.

This issue is as relevant to us locally (perhaps even more so) as it is globally. I believe that before we put our swimsuits back on, we need to take a good hard look at our naked selves and societies (aaargh!). In 1925 Mahatma Gandhi outlined a simple yet profound social values framework. He called it the Seven Deadly Social sins:

So what do we look like naked?

How do we get back in shape?

Jim Wallis, chair of the Davos values panel and author of Rediscovering Values points out that the worst we could do right now is "go back to normal". Instead we need to create a whole new normal. To do this we need to change the questions that have fundamentally driven our societies.

We need to stop asking:

The scaremongering implicit in the above, means that we live in a perpetual state of fear and need.... at best a rickety foundation for values.

We need to start talking about the right stuff. For me that includes honesty, respect and the common good. For you it might be very different. The point is that we begin these conversations with friends, family and colleagues. It's much more interesting than the fancy new car that money can't buy (anymore) or the Botox that erases every visible sign of happiness.

Read published article on MoneyWeb site