“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” – Luke 12:48
One of the many legendary stories about Fiorello LaGuardia, the beloved, colorful Depression era mayor of New York City, occurred on a cold January night in 1935 when he turned up at a night court that happened to serve the poorest ward of the city. Dismissing the judge for the evening the mayor took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. LaGuardia sighed. He then turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions – ten dollars or ten days in jail. Simultaneously he reached into his own pocket producing the ten dollars to cover the fine. “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit. And furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.” The following day the newspapers reported that $47.50 had been collected and handed over to the bewildered old lady.
My first job in the financial business, the one that launched my career, was with a large regional bank in Fort Worth, Texas. There’s an old story about that fine institution that defined its culture for years. During the Great Depression when banks were failing and unemployment was rampant, rather than laying people off the decision was made that everyone would instead take a substantial pay cut. That decision not only helped maintain the bank’s solvency, it also saved its employees’ families from starvation.
The right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness are among our nation’s core principles, but such personal rights also carry great responsibilities, such as being good citizens, including tending to the wellbeing of others. “From everyone who has been given much will be demanded,” the scriptures remind us. Mayor LaGuardia certainly made that loud and clear in his courtroom that cold January night, as did my old employer in the way it cared for the wellbeing of its employees during those dark days.