Masters of War

I’m a big Bob Dylan fan (yes, another of the 25 things you don’t know about me). While he’s not always easy to appreciate, I don’t see how anyone can argue about his place in American music. In fact, I always use him as the acid test when people start discussing how “big” a particular artist is. The test is simple – my grandchildren’s children will still hear and be familiar with the songs of Bob Dylan as we are with the music of Bach or Irving Berlin. Can we say that about whomever we’re discussing?

In 1963, Dylan wrote a song called “Masters of War.” I was reminded of it this morning as Bernie Madoff went to court. Dylan’s words capture a lot of how I feel about Madoff and the other folks who have put their own self-interest ahead of that of people who trusted them:

Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

I think Dylan was rephrasing the Biblical line about losing one’s soul while gaining the world and in the process wrote a simple, urgent business lesson.   We as an economy are at a point of reinventing what business we do and how we do it.  The newsroom is now the content center; communication to consumers has become communication with consumers.  Technology has changed most things and will continue to do so.  But not everything.  The basic medical principle of “do no harm”, which is as ancient as society itself, is one of the unchanged things to which we should all adhere.

What do you care about besides yourself?  How are you helping that in the way you do your business?  Making money isn’t a bad thing – it’s one of the rewards we reap from doing well at something and I’m all for it.  But I think we should play the game the way Dylan writes – timelessly, memorably, and honestly.  How about you?

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