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Lifting Our Eyes from the Game – Psalm 123

Dan Maskell, the beloved tennis commentator of my boyhood, would remind us each year, and surely would have done today with the historic appearance of the first British tennis player in the Wimbledon final for almost three quarters of a century, that the contenders would walk onto Centre Court underneath those words from Rudyard Kipling:

“If you can keep your head when all about are losing theirs,
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same.”

I am not sure how many contestants do read those words but Maskell felt that the second line was very good advice.  Our Psalm this morning begins with good advice:

“To you I lift up my eyes,
O you who are enthroned in the heavens”

I am tempted to start a campaign to place this quotation over the lintel of the doors into every bank’s boardroom, so that the board members would be reminded to “lift up their eyes,” up away from the motives of profit, self-importance, selfishness and greed; to lift up their eyes to do what is right.  It is, you see, about culture, the way of life within these organisations.  (Which is why it truly was Bob Diamond who had to go.)  Within these places with eyes down on the profit and loss accounts, without a Director for Ethics, or a moral compass in view, decisions are taken in a misleading blindfold.

To give you an example, there was my friend George, he had done well since I first met him in an early training group and now twenty-five years later he was the managing director of our subsidiary in Indonesia.  Returning from one of my Far East trips, I stopped over in Jakarta to see how he was getting on.  George was a Scot and enjoyed being the good host and, as I was then a member of the parent board, the man from head office, it was an excuse for a good bottle of claret to help the discussions along.  Well, a little way into the dinner but quite a way into the claret, we came to the plans for the new factory and the cost estimates which I was going to review the next day before taking the request for money back to Paris.

“Steve, “he said, “there is one point I need your advice over; where on this document should I show the bribe to the planning officials?”

And you know, George was perfectly serious.  He had become so accustomed to the local practices that he could not see that it was not right.  He had lost sight of this, even to the extent that he somehow expected to find a space on the spreadsheet for such an entry and again he somehow forgot that he was placing many, many people in jeopardy.

And that is the difficulty, somewhere in Barclay’s, around or below the chairman, people were doing what they thought was needed, what they thought would be good for them, just as George thought he was doing what would be good for his workers.  They were so concentrating on the “game” that they found themselves playing (to maximise their book, the bonus, or secure the promotion, to make their bank the best one, whichever it was) that they lost sight of what is really important,

To return to Psalm 123, verse 4: 

“Our soul has had more of its fill of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud”

So it does seem to me that every major board should have at least someone on it who is charged with making sure that the right things are being done in the right way, not simply obeying the rules or working marginally within the law but someone who asks constantly is what we are doing right.

Someone, who in the words of the Psalmist, “lifts up their eyes, to you who are enthroned in the heavens.”

Amen.

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