Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Austerity Misdirection

The Austerity Misdirection
Fixed exchange rates are especially unforgiving of welfare states that destroy their ability to create wealth
Updated May 4, 2012, 7:17 p.m. ET

You might think there exists, among onlookers to Europe's struggles, a debate between fans and critics of austerity. There's not.

Across the spectrum, most have believed from the beginning that it was a very bad idea to squeeze economies with higher taxes and sharply reduced outlays to pay back debts that were unpayable.

Almost universal has been agreement that policy should focus on cutting debt, even if it means default, and restoring growth, not squeezing blood from a stone. What difference has existed is the old difference between Keynesians and their critics. Keynesians advocate (even in the circumstances) increased government borrowing and spending as the way to restore growth. Their supply-side critics favor tackling impediments to growth with more efficient tax codes, deregulation and privatization of state-owned assets.

Cutting crosswise through these groups, too, are degrees of willingness to advocate a measure of inflation to help the adjustment.

So how did we end up where Europe's solution has consisted mostly of tax hiking and spending contraction? Put aside those whose polemics are shaped by a need constantly to construct and reconstruct their mental worlds so all their "enemies" are on the wrong side of every debate.

Even among the non-deranged is a habit of ignoring constraints. Good ideas that can't be put into effect aren't good ideas. Bluntly put, the Keynesian remedies (borrow, spend, adjust later) require things of Germany that German politicians cannot deliver.

Governments engage in austerity not because they want to, but because they have nowhere to get the money they'd like to spend and spend. The German people don't want to tax themselves—or indirectly tax themselves with inflation—so Spaniards, Greeks and Italians can spend the money.

And inevitable is the half-spoken argument about the size of government. Whether or not Europe's governments are too big, they are certainly too big for the euro. Fixed exchange rates between sovereign, democratic countries may be practical in a world of atomized businesses and individuals who don't conceive of an alternative to organizing their lives by price signals. The gold standard certainly worked well for the better part of a century.

But that's not our world and never will be again. In France, 56% of national income is controlled by the state. Across Europe, the first recourse of every interest group and voting bloc is to expect the state to protect them from inconvenient adjustments dictated by mere price signals.

To say Europe walked blindly into monetary union is an exaggeration. Bureaucratic Europhiles hoped it would necessitate a march toward a United States of Europe. Pro-business Europhiles hoped it would force a return to the market.

The inchoate answer coming from Europe's voters, however, was "we want neither." It may be today that the message coming from voters is "we don't want the euro." Much depends on Germany. To choose not to choose (the current path) is probably to concede a chaotic version of the inflationist-Keynesian program. The European Central Bank will print money. Governments will spend it. Any commitment to pro-growth reform will be problematic and haphazard at best.

The alternative, assuming Berlin won't lead a forced march into a United States of Europe, would be for Germany, and any countries desirous of being in a currency bloc with Germany, to drop out of the euro. Their new currency would rise versus the remaining euro countries, costing them a painful short-term adjustment. This would be sad. It would strike many Germans as an unfair reward for their competitiveness, though they'd also be well-positioned to benefit from an asset fire sale in Europe. But if Germans hate inflation as much as they say they do, leaving may be the only alternative to losing a war (already begun in this weekend's French election) for control of the European Central Bank. On the current path, it's only a matter of time until the ECB surrenders and makes its contribution to adjustment by debasing the euro. Can we admit now the simple lesson is against excessive debt? Don't be impressed by those who protest that Spain and Ireland were brought down by private-sector extravagance. If we've learned anything, in a debt crisis the distinction between public and private disappears. Too, a closer look shows the Irish state an intimate participant in Ireland's housing boom, collecting 40% of the price of every new home in taxes. In Spain, regional governments owned or controlled the lenders that financed the construction binge.

A fixed exchange rate system is an especially unforgiving environment for a welfare state that destroys its ability to create wealth. But the universal lesson is: Don't be a welfare state that destroys its ability to create wealth.

A version of this article appeared May 5, 2012, on page A15 in some U.S. editions of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: The Austerity Misdirection.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Need Space in a Relationship? Just Don't Say It That Way

The Wall Street
Updated June 26, 2012, 12:41 p.m. ET
Need Space in a Relationship? Just Don't Say It That Way

Columnist's name

Several years into her marriage, Jessica Carr discovered a receipt on her husband's desk for a late lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Seattle, 45 miles from the farm she shares with him in Orting, Wash. He had told her he'd spent that whole day in business meetings.

"Uh-oh," Ms. Carr, now 38, remembers thinking. She'd thought her husband had seemed emotionally distant because he was overwhelmed by raising two small children. Now, she worried something else was going on.

Ms. Carr, who owns a horse training, breeding and boarding business, confronted her husband. "What were you doing, and why did you lie to me?" she asked. She braced herself for the answer, and it surprised her: He'd just needed a little time alone. Elizabeth Bernstein and relationship experts answered reader questions on June 19. Many couples say that space, or "giving each other plenty of space," is the single most important reason they think their marriage has survived.

"It seemed selfish to take the time for myself, but sometimes I need to unplug," says Rich Carr, 49, owner of an interactive marketing company.

I love asking happy long-time married couples to tell me the secrets to their successful union. Over and over, I hear this answer: "We give each other space."

Having enough space, or privacy, in a relationship is even more important to a couple's happiness than a good sex life, according to a recent unpublished analysis of data from an ongoing federally funded longitudinal study. And women tend to be more unhappy with the amount of space in their marriage than men.

Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and research professor at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, has been studying 373 married couples for the past 25 years. When she asked participants if they felt they had enough "privacy or time for self" in their relationship, 29% said no.

Dr. Orbuch recently analyzed one year of data from her study and found more wives than husbands (31% versus 26%) reported not having enough space. She believes this is because women often have less time to themselves than men. Even when women have jobs outside the home, they still are typically the primary caregivers of children or aging parents. And because they also tend to have more friends than men, they often have more social obligations.

Dr. Orbuch asked participants if they were unhappy in their marriages. Of those who reported being unhappy, 11.5% said the reason was lack of privacy or time for self. That is a more common answer than the 6% who said they were unhappy with their sex lives.

"When individuals have their own friends, their own set of interests, when they are able to define themselves not by their spouse or relationship, that makes them happier and less bored," says Dr. Orbuch, author of the book "Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great." Space gives people time to process thoughts, pursue hobbies and relax without responsibilities to others. And the time apart gives partners something new to talk about. "Space brings excitement and novelty," Dr. Orbuch says.

A person's need for space is a function of innate personality, and of their "attachment style," which is determined in infancy largely by the way we are parented, experts say.

People who had affectionate, nurturing parents are comfortable with both being close to others and being alone; they have a "secure" attachment style.

Those whose parents were inconsistently available to them emotionally often have an "anxious" attachment style. They crave closeness, fear abandonment—and need and want less space. Those whose parents were rejecting often have an "avoidant" attachment style, resisting closeness and seeking space because they fear they will be hurt.

People who fear closeness tend to seek out people who are warm and inviting. This is how someone who needs a lot of space ends up with a partner who hates to be alone.

Couples can work out their space issues, if they understand each other's different needs and why. "Underneath, both individuals want love," says Vondie Lozano, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Glendora, Calif. The space-seeking partner's need may be greater because he probably has fewer social connections, Dr. Lozano says. "When the couple can see he is just afraid of being hurt and she is just afraid of being abandoned, and it all goes back to their families," then they can stop taking it personally, she says. Individuals who don't get the space they need will find a way to create distance, Dr. Lozano cautions. They may lash out or withdraw. "If you don't give them their physical space, they will take emotional space," she says.

Mr. Carr grew up in an Air Force family, moved around a lot and often lived on farms. He says this upbringing made him self-sufficient. He experienced periods of isolation after each move, because it would take time to make new friends. He learned to entertain himself by riding horses and hiking in the woods.

Ms. Carr says she would like less space because she spends a lot of time alone in her work day, doing chores and riding.

Earlier in the marriage, Mr. Carr sometimes would schedule a meeting in Seattle and spend an afternoon walking around Pike Place Market. "That meeting with business representatives took half an hour, and my meeting with myself took two," he says. He often took back-to-back business trips.

At home, he often snapped at his kids, grunted at his wife or sat there, scowling. "I needed to get some stuff out of my head," he says. Ms. Carr tried not to take her husband's grumpiness and distraction personally, but it was hard. "I started to pull back because I thought he wasn't happy with me," she says.

Around this time, the Carrs overheard a couple, whom they didn't know, arguing. Each presented his or her view, then calmly discussed it. At one point, the husband noted they were late for an appointment and suggested they talk again the next day. "I saw that and thought, 'We need to schedule time to talk, to visit and discuss what we each need to get done,' " Ms. Carr says.

Now, the Carrs have marriage meetings. At 5:30 each morning, espressos in hand, they sit for an hour by a wall of windows overlooking Mount Rainier, catching up on personal stuff. Then they call up their joint calendar online and discuss the day's schedule—including the personal time each one will need. "What works is making this a part of a normal conversation," Mr. Carr says.

After the meeting, he goes for a walk of a half-hour or more with his Labrador retriever. Some afternoons, he sits in an old chair overlooking the pasture in back of the main stable. For a "major reset," he schedules a stay at a business retreat center in Austin, Texas. This year and last, he spent three days alone at a rented cabin in the woods, Father's Day gifts from his wife and kids. "When I give him his space to do what he wants," Ms. Carr says, "he is more engaged, more excited and more rejuvenated when he comes home."

Room of One's Own

Here's how to negotiate for more space without hurting your partner.

• Be specific. Say, 'I need the afternoon to myself.' Simply saying 'I need space' sends confusing signals.

• Explain why more space makes you happy, so your partner knows it's not about him or her.

• Enjoy the space you take. Guilt defeats the purpose, says Barbara F. Okun, counseling psychology professor at Northeastern University.

• No secrets. Tell your spouse what you did and with whom when you were away

• Don't get carried away. Too much space weakens your connection.

• Don't forget to schedule couple time and family time, too.

—Write to Elizabeth Bernstein at or follow her column at

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To increase your workplace efficiency, take a nap or take a walk

June 16, 2012
To Stay on Schedule, Take a Break

WANT to be more productive? Keep your nose to the grindstone, or your fingers on the keyboard and your eyes on the screen. Because the more time you put in, the more you’ll get done, right?

Wrong. A growing body of evidence shows that taking regular breaks from mental tasks improves productivity and creativity — and that skipping breaks can lead to stress and exhaustion.

I think I’ll go to the gym now.

Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, says John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.

Breaks are great. But I feel guilty taking too many of them.

Breaks can induce guilt because they’re “this little oasis of personal time that we get while we’re selling ourselves to someone else,” Professor Trougakos says. But that’s just the point.

Employees generally need to detach from their work and their work space to recharge their internal resources, he says. Options include walking, reading a book in another room or taking the all-important lunch break, which provides both nutritional and cognitive recharging

It’s shortsighted not to take this time, or for managers to discourage employees from taking it, he says.

I mean, if you think .... uh, what I mean to say is ... oh no, my head feels a little fuzzy. I think I need to walk around the block.

Try to take a break before reaching the absolute bottom of your mental barrel, Professor Trougakos says. Symptoms of needing time to recharge include drifting and daydreaming.

After that walk, I’m “in the zone” and want to keep working. Do I really have to take another break anytime soon?

There is no need to take a break if you’re on a roll, Professor Trougakos advises. Working over an extended period can be invigorating — if it’s your choice. What drains your energy reserves most is forcing yourself to go on, he says.

Well, I don’t want to strain myself. What if I can’t do this topic justice? I need to get another cup of coffee. Oh look, someone brought in her baby. I need to update my Netflix queue. Maybe I’ll visit Fred on the seventh floor.

Don’t go too far with this, Professor Trougakos says. Too many breaks can abet procrastination. “Anything at an extreme level,” he says, “is not going to be good.

Mostly, though, workers don’t take enough breaks — especially breaks involving movement, says James A. Levine, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic. He has done studies showing that workers who remain sedentary throughout the day are impairing their health.

“The design of the human being is to be a mobile entity,” says Dr. Levine, who is also a proponent of standing, and even walking, while working and during meetings.

I want to make some more calls, but I’m so sleepy! I wish I could take a nap underneath my desk.

Dr. Levine is a supporter of nap breaks, but only if they are allowed by management, he says. Otherwise, nappers can be perceived as slackers — even though research shows that naps improve productivity.

When it comes to productivity and concentration, everyone has a different capacity. Management should encourage employees to devise individually effective break routines, Dr. Levine says. But he also has some general guidelines: try working in intense 15-minute bursts, punctuated by breaks, in cycles that are repeated throughout the day. This works because “the thought process is not designed to be continuous,” he says.

“Long hours don’t mean good work — highly efficient, productive work is more valuable,” Dr. Levine says, and frequent breaks promote that.

They also encourage those flashes of genius that employers value so much, he adds, noting that Albert Einstein is thought to have conceived the theory of relativity while riding his bicycle.

When you come right down to it, Dr. Levine says, “the work should break up the break.”

Now that’s an idea I can get up and walk around the room to support.

Source: The New York Times

Try to make it work before throwing in the towel

Try to make it work before throwing in the towel
This is a column on workplace issues
The Straits Times - July 2, 2012

NANTHA asked: Under my company's two-year rotation plan, I was offered a role that was not my forte. I still gave it a shot. But now, 1 1/2 years later, I'm struggling. My choices within the firm are limited, given my lack of experience, and my aggressive job search has been in vain. Should I end my misery and quit, then look for a new job, or continue to bite the bullet till I land something?

IT WOULD be a peachy world if we could walk away every time things get really sour at the workplace, with little concern over the impact on our wallets or other consequences. But reality bites.

Do yourself a favour. Unless you are certain your opportunities in the firm are limited, push past this period of worry.

By that I mean, put in the effort to check out the options in your current workplace - even if you may be financially secure. A resume which screams 'job-hopper' won't do you any good.

There are merits to the rotation system. It is a tool that provides the opportunity for staff to broaden skills, gain knowledge and enhance professional and personal growth, says Mr Maneesh Sah, Towers Watson's Singapore and South-east Asia marketing director.

It helps firms to assess their talent and know how best to maximise their staff's divergent skills.

Remember, when a job is easy, it is rarely a challenge to personal or professional growth.

Naturally, there are tasks which you would prefer and those you may excel at. Employees should understand that the exposure is a test or chance to stand out from the rest, says Mr Josh Goh, GMP Group's assistant director of corporate services. Have you spoken to your supervisor or human resource manager?

'It's important for you to understand that it's as much the organisation's responsibility as it is the employee's to make the rotation assignment a success,' says Mr Sah.

There are other ways to help yourself - get help from a more experienced colleague, perhaps. Or divide or prioritise the work into manageable portions.

And yes of course, while you are being positive and pro-active, crank up the job hunting. What do you have to lose?

After all, you have got only six months left of the rotation, so look forward to your new posting or better still, ask for it.

Many people do not love what they do. But life is what you make of it.

If you really cannot stomach the situation and it has become stress-inducing and dreadful to work there, then leave.

'Unless the whole ordeal is affecting his mental and physical health adversely, it is not advisable that he quits without a firm job offer,' says Mr Goh.

Remember: There is no guarantee you would like your new job or the job after that. But don't let fear paralyse you from action or change.

If you cannot change your job, change your attitude. Flip that switch - focus on your strengths instead of the 'can't dos'. Ultimately, you are the best judge of your strengths.

Side note to readers: If you are on the job-hunt circuit, send your resumes to recruitment firms. I know my strengths - head hunting is not one of them. Good luck.

If you want a fresh take, write in to Senior Correspondent Anita Gabriel at

Beat job burnout, no need to quit yet

Beat job burnout, no need to quit yet
Here's how you can recharge and find new passion in your work
The Straits Times - July 2, 2012

JOB burnout is a common syndrome in today's pressure-cooker workplace, given the long hours many workers put in and the elevated stress levels that result.

One solution would be to quit and take a long break to re-evaluate life and work. Another, less radical option would be to take a short break to recuperate.

Ms Crystal Lim Leahy and her husband Mark nearly split up a few years ago because he was burned out from work. They saved their marriage by quitting their jobs and leaving their cushy life here to live in rural Australia.

Ms Leahy, 33, says they had reached the point where they no longer knew what life was about and they were unable to enjoy even the simple pleasure of watching their children grow up.

She was a banker turned headhunter who became an instant mother after she married Mark, who had a child from a previous marriage.

He had a 'highly stressful job as the managing director of a global investment bank - which meant constant travel, up to 20-hour workdays, conference calls on weekends and late at night, and being unable to turn off his phone even on holidays'.

'On holidays, instead of relaxing, we would look at buying property in the area where we were vacationing, discuss our financial portfolio, or quarrel or fret over the fact that no matter how much we had in the bank, it never seemed enough,' says Ms Leahy.

Their two-year break on Mornington Peninsula, not far from Melbourne - where there were no maids or chauffeur, but they did have four hectares of forest, a micro-vineyard, an orchard and a vegetable patch - provided the perfect tonic.

However, few people can afford a change on that scale. Also, quitting is not an easy option and not always possible.

You can consider less drastic steps, which can be effective too:

- Ask for a change within the organisation. It might involve a new project or task, a different area or a new team. This way, you would not run the risk of losing your income.

- Ask for help. If you have too much work and not enough time to complete it even though you are working nights and weekends, you can approach your superior to renegotiate your workload, says Mr David Leong, the managing director of human resources firm People Worldwide Consulting.

- Start an exciting or a fun project. This could fire up your enthusiasm for work in general.

- Hibernate in between big projects so you do not tire yourself out - that is, if you can.

- Take a sabbatical - again, only if your company or boss allows it and you can afford to.

- Do not think of a sabbatical as a beach vacation where you just sit around and do nothing. Take a course, or do volunteer work or something you have always wanted to do.

'For those who have worked too long and too hard, and are at a personal and professional crossroads, the best way to get fired up again is to stop and breathe. Once you're ready, move out of your burnout and jump back in with a new passion,' says Mr Leong.

- Go for short breaks. 'Most burnouts are temporary. Adequate rest and time off from the activities that led to the burnout typically do the trick,' says executive coach Paul Heng.

'People have varying levels of ability to bounce back from a burnout. For me, all it takes is a couple of days away from Singapore, doing nothing much except eat and rest.'

At one busy firm, the executive director does just that. When the stress gets to him, he takes an impromptu trip by himself to Vietnam, Thailand or some other place in the region.

- Go for a retreat - for yoga, meditation or emotional healing.

When things got rough, Ms Leahy and her husband attended a therapy retreat that put them through a programme called the Hoffman Process. It changed their lives and spurred their move to Australia, where she decided to start her own retreat business for senior executives called Legacy Process.

'Everyone seemed to be burned out and looking for direction,' she says. 'Not one person we knew in our social circle was truly happy despite the bonuses and luxurious lifestyles.'

She says she wants to use holistic therapy - combining physical, mental, emotional and spiritual approaches based on principles of psychotherapy, meditation and financial resource management - to help people discover how to put passion and purpose back into their lives.

She also wants to help them move towards a more meaningful work-life balance. 'Although many bankers know they want to leave the field after a certain period, it's scary for them to take the first step,' she says.

Her plan is to run a week-long residential retreat on the Mornington Peninsula four times a year.

It would not be for the average Joe, though. All included, the price would come to US$19,800 (about S$25,000) per head, although the first retreat, planned for August, will offer a 30 per cent discount.

'Burnout usually creates emotional exhaustion and de-personalisation at work. Recovery means recharging, and taking a new perspective on work and how to engage peers and superiors,' says Mr Leong.

When churches are charities

When churches are charities

Straits Times
07 Jul 2012
Author: Willie Cheng

THE City Harvest Church court case has resurrected the periodic question: Why should a church, or for that matter, a religious institution, be accorded charity status?

The naysayer's reasoning goes like this: Charity is about helping society's poor and needy. Sure, churches can be charitable and give some money to those in need, but so do many other organisations which are not charities. Religion, after all, is fundamentally about God and spiritual matters.

A proper discourse on this subject however requires an appreciation of how the definitions of charity and church have evolved over the centuries.

Charity and church defined

SINGAPORE and about 60 other countries trace their legal heritage to England. Specifically, the legal definition of charity harks back to the Statute of Charitable Uses 1601 of Elizabethan England and its subsequent refinements in common law.

Chief among the common law cases was Income Tax Special Purpose Commissioners v Pemsel (1891) where four categories of charitable uses were defined:

• the relief of poverty;
• the advancement of education;
• the advancement of religion;
• other purposes beneficial to the community not falling under any of the preceding heads.

Over the years and across the world, the fourth category has been used to cover an increasing variety of causes such as vulnerable groups (the disabled, elderly, etc), animal welfare, environment, the arts and heritage. Singapore, for example, specifically added sports as a charitable cause in 2005.

One reason for including the advancement of religion as a charitable cause in early England was that much of the charitable work of providing for the poor and needy was being done by the church. Religion, in those days, meant the Church of England.

However, over the centuries, the religious scene has changed significantly. For starters, there has been a proliferation of and diversity in churches.

In the first few centuries after Jesus Christ died, Christianity was consolidated and became widespread with the establishment of the Roman Catholic Church. Starting in the 16th century, a movement by certain priests to reform the Catholic Church led to the formation of several Protestant denominations such as the Lutherans, Presbyterians, Anglicans and Methodists. In time, these denominations sprouted further subdivisions and sects, alongside untold numbers of independent 'non-denominational' churches. Larger ones with weekly attendances of 2,000 or more, such as City Harvest Church, are called 'megachurches'.

These churches may differ in opinion regarding theology and/or liturgical practice. But they mostly subscribe to Jesus Christ as the saviour and the Bible as God's word (even if they may interpret its contents differently).

Some critics consider independent churches shallow in theology while being deep in secular models of entertainment-based worship and marketing. For example, critics take issue with the doctrine of the 'prosperity gospel' some of these churches around the world subscribe to. The prosperity gospel teaches that financial blessings are the will of God and more donations to the church result in increased material prosperity to the individual. It is a philosophy which some theologians argue has no sound Biblical basis.

Another key distinction among the various forms of churches lies in their structures and leadership.

The Catholic Church and the mainstream Protestant denominations have fairly well-established organisational structures and processes for the formation and conduct of the clergy. For example, a Catholic priest is ordained only after an intensive period of scrutiny and formation of eight or more years, upon which he takes a vow of chastity, obedience and, sometimes, poverty. He is expected to live less than modestly. In Singapore, Catholic priests are given a stipend of $500 per month, with their board and lodging provided by the church.

On the other hand, most of the non-mainstream churches are essentially independent congregations, some loosely affiliated to each other, but mostly with their own rules and practices. Many of these churches do not have the same kind of rigorous institutionalised approach to selecting and developing leaders. Indeed, leaders often emerge by virtue of their charisma and ability to win followers. It is the congregations, rather than institutional rules, which determine leaders and lifestyle expectations of the leaders.

Should such charismatic leaders have flawed characters, they can do untold damage. In extreme cases, such organisations are classified as cults. Cults are banned in Singapore, but not in some countries. Yet, by granting charity status to such cults or near-cults as some countries do, regulators confer on them tax benefits and, more significantly, legitimacy.

Keep religious groups out of charities?

GIVEN the historical broadening of the definition of charity, it would be, in my opinion, wrong to narrowly target religion for exclusion as a charitable cause.

Yes, (most) religions are about God and the afterlife, but they are also fundamentally about goodwill and bringing out the goodness in man. Which is to say: they are about the community good.

If religion is excluded - say, we revert to the layman's notion of charity as helping the poor and needy - we need to also exclude sports, the arts, heritage, animals, education and health care. We would, in fact, exclude the whole gamut of other causes of 'community good' that have grown over time.

At the same time, we also need to recognise that there are churches and there are churches. What then do we do about the errant religious organisations that may not be extreme enough to be classified as cults (and thus be banned) but, in all other respects, qualify to be charities? The default answer is: Treat it as any other errant social service charity or sports charity.

In other words, have a clear set of rules and regulations for how charities are to be governed and managed. And if there is a breach by any of the charities or its personnel, throw the book at them.

Special features of religious groups

HOWEVER, the application of such rules and regulations to religious charities is not so straightforward. There are three related and distinctive features of religious organisations that regulators have to grapple with.

The first is the basis of donations. An inviolable principle in the charity sector is 'donor intent'. This means respecting the basis for which a donation is given. In the case of religious institutions, most believers give with a blanket fiat for their leaders to do with the donation as is deemed fit rather than for specific or even general charitable purposes. The second is evangelisation. The missions of most religious organisations include evangelisation, not just of the converted, but of the broader community. Evangelisation sits uncomfortably with regulators in the more secular countries. Yet, it can be argued that evangelisation is no different from, say, the advocacy of other charities, such as the healthy lifestyles (to avoid certain diseases) promoted by health-care charities like the Singapore Heart Foundation and Sata CommHealth

The third is the leadership of these organisations. The governance and management of religious institutions tend to be bound together, rather than be separated, as is considered best practices by secular bodies. Religious leaders also have a sway over their followers which can sometimes be seen by regulators and outside parties as bordering on the irrational.

The interplay of these three factors has challenged regulators when they seek to implement a single sector-wide approach to regulating charities.

In Singapore, the same set of regulations is applied to all charities, regardless of sub-sectors (for example, the religious, social service and arts sub-sectors).

There is, however, differentiated treatment in the Charity Code of Governance based on the size of the charities: the bigger the charities, the more controls and scrutiny are needed.

As highlighted above, there are unique aspects of religious charities, as there could be for charities in other sub-sectors.

It might be timely to review these sub-sectorial differences for a more targeted and meaningful approach to charity governance and regulation.

The writer, a former partner at management and technology consulting firm Accenture, is author of Doing Good Well. He sits on the boards of several commercial and non-profit organisations, including Singapore Press Holdings, Singapore Institute of Directors, and Catholic and secular charities.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Settle issue in court, not the church

Settle issue in court, not the church
Monday, July 2, 2012

MUCH disquiet has followed the arrests of key leaders of the City Harvest Church (CHC) over allegations that they had misused over $50 million of church funds to promote the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of pastor Kong Hee, the church’s founder. Her secular music had been described earlier by the pastor as part of a ‘cultural mandate’ to extend the church’s reach.

The criminal breach of trust charges brought against the five leaders are plainly neither about the church itself nor the ‘Crossover Project’ (the church’s plan to widen its reach through pop music) per se. Also, the authorities have been at pains to emphasise that the court action was directed at the individuals and not the church, which would be able to carry on with its religious work unimpeded.

The issue before the courts is one of governance. At issue is not a question of whether church members minded that their money was used to support the music career of their pastor’s wife (some clearly don’t). The central question is whether funds were diverted without the knowledge of the church’s executive members. If so, who knew what, when and why? Nor is it a matter of whether the funds used were eventually returned. A crime would have been committed if funds were diverted for uses that the church’s executive leadership was kept in the dark about.

The weekend’s effusive demonstration of support for the five leaders by CHC members would seem natural enough,given their strong personal loyalty to their charismatic pastor.Earlier, some leaders of the church had come out to expressly state that they 'stand with’ the five who have been charged and reject any suggestion that funds had been misused. They went on to claim there was restitution of funds and those charged gained no personal profit.

Such comments are ill-advised at this juncture. It is established practice for all parties to refrain from commenting on the merits of a pending case, as the court is the right and proper forum for all evidence and arguments to be presented and debated.By coming out strongly in public to refute the charges, the CHC’s leaders are raising the ante needlessly. A confrontational stance carries implications that have a bearing on the delicate balance between religion and the state.

A calm and measured response would be more appropriate while the case is before the courts. This case raises several larger issues on governance in religious groups and charities that will continue to reverberate even after it has been dealt with by the court. For now, it would be prudent for all parties to prevent passions from running high, and counsel patience for the law to take its course.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Great Sin

Today I come to that part of Christian morals where they differ most sharply from all other morals. There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves.

I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which We are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others.

The vice I am talking of is Pride or Self-Conceit: and the virtue opposite to it, in Christian morals, is called Humility. You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the centre. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere flea bites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.

Does this seem to you exaggerated? If so, think it over. I pointed out a moment ago that the more pride one had, the more one disliked pride in others. In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask yourself, "How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me, or show off?" The point it that each person's pride is in competition with every one else's pride.

It is because I wanted to be the big noise at the party that I am so annoyed at someone else being the big noise. Two of a trade never agree. Now what you want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive—is competitive by its very nature—while the other vices are competitive only, so to speak, by accident. Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.

We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If every one else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I say that Pride is essentially competitive in a way the other vices are not. The sexual impulse may drive two men into competition if they both want the same girl But that is only by accident; they might just as likely have wanted two different girls. But a proud man will take your girl from you, not because he wants her, but just to prove to himself that he is a better man than you. Greed may drive men into competition if there is not enough to go round; but the proud man, even when he has got more than he can possibly want, will try to get still more just to assert his power. Nearly all those evils in the world which people put down to greed or selfishness are really far more the result of Pride. Take it with money. Greed will certainly make a man want money, for the sake of a better house, better holidays, better things to eat and drink. But only up to a point What is it dial makes a man with £10,000 a year anxious to get £20,000 a year? It is not the greed for more pleasure. £10,000 will give all the luxuries that any man can really enjoy. It is Pride—the wish to be richer than some other rich man, and (still more) the wish for power. For, of course, power is what Pride really enjoys: there is nothing makes a man feel so superior to others as being able to move them about like toy soldiers. What makes a pretty girl spread misery wherever she goes by collecting admirers? Certainly not her sexual instinct: that kind of girl is quite often sexually frigid. It is Pride. What is it that makes a political leader or a whole nation go on and on, demanding more and more? Pride again. Pride is competitive by its very nature: that is why it goes on and on. If I am a proud man, then, as long as there is one man in the whole world more powerful, or richer, or cleverer than I, he is my rival and my enemy.

The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But Pride always means enmity—it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison— you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound's worth of Pride towards their fellow-men.

I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil.

The real test of being in the presence of God is that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether. It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly.

For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy's Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity—that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-con trolled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride—just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. Before leaving this subject I must guard against some possible misunderstandings: (1) Pleasure in being praised is not Pride. The child who is patted on the back for doing a lesson well,the woman whose beauty is praised by her lover, the saved soul to whom Christ says "Well done," are pleased and ought to be. For here the pleasure lies not in what you are but in the fact that you have pleased someone you wanted (and rightly wanted) to please. The trouble begins when you pass from thinking, "I have pleased him; all is well," to thinking, "What a fine person I must be to have done it." The more you delight in yourself and the less you delight in the praise, the worse you are becoming. When you delight wholly in yourself and do not care about the praise at all, you have reached the bottom. That is why vanity, though it is the sort of Pride which shows most on the surface, is really the least bad and most pardonable sort. The vain person wants praise, applause, admiration, too much and is always angling for it. It is a fault, but a childlike and even (in an odd way) a humble fault.

It shows that you are not yet completely contented with your own admiration. You value other people enough to want them to look at you. You are, in fact, still human. The real black, diabolical Pride comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you. Of course, it is very right, and often our duty, not to care what people think of us, if we do so for the right reason; namely, because we care so incomparably more what God thinks. But the Proud man has a different reason for not caring.

He says "Why should I care for the applause of that rabble as if their opinion were worth anything? And even if their opinions were of value, am I the sort of man to blush with pleasure at a compliment like some chit of a girl at her first dance? No, I am an integrated, adult personality. All I have done has been done to satisfy my own ideals—or my artistic conscience—or the traditions of my family— or, in a word, because I'm That Kind of Chap. If the mob like it, let them. They're nothing to me." In this way real thoroughgoing Pride may act as a check on vanity; for, as I said a moment ago, the devil loves "curing" a small fault by giving you a great one. We must try not to be vain, but we must never call in our Pride to cure our vanity; better the frying-pan than the fire.

(2) We say in English that a man is "proud" of his son, or his father, or his school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether "pride" in this sense is a sin. I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by "proud of." Very often, in such sentences, the phrase "is proud of" means "has a warm-hearted admiration for." Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin. But it might, perhaps, mean that the person in question gives himself airs on the ground of his distinguished father, or because he belongs to a famous regiment.

This would, clearly, be a fault; but even then, it would be better than being proud simply of himself. To love and admire anything outside yourself is to take one step away from utter spiritual ruin; though we shall not be well so long as we love and admire anything more than we love and admire God.

(3) We must not think Pride is something God forbids because He is offended at it, or that Humility is something He demands as due to His own dignity—as if God Himself was proud. He is not in the least worried about His dignity. The point is, He wants you to know Him; wants to give you Himself.

And He and you are two things of such a kind that if you really get into any kind of touch with Him you will, in fact, be humble—delightedly humble, feeling the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity which has made you restless and unhappy all your life. He is trying to make you humble in order to make this moment possible: trying to take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.

I wish I had got a bit further with humility myself: if I had, I could probably tell you more about the relief, the comfort, of taking the fancy-dress off—getting rid of the false self, with all its "Look at me" and "Aren't I a good boy?" and all its posing and posturing. To get even near it, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

(4) Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call "humble" nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course,he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it. If you think you are not conceited, it means you are very conceited indeed.

Extracted from CS Lewis' Mere Christianity