Becoming Our Own Gods

Three weeks ago, former Tyco executive Dennis Kozlowski walked out of Manhattan courtroom in a swarm of photographers. He had just been convicted on multiple counts of looting Tyco of hundreds of millions of dollars. It was a chance for the press to once again fixate on the almost unbelievable excesses of Kozlowski’s lifestyle—including the $2.2 million-dollar birthday party for his wife, Karen, with dancing nymphs and an ice statue of Michelangelo pouring out vodka. The magnitude of his theft makes many people wonder: What made Kozlowski do such a thing? And why? I looked for answers to that in my new book, The Good Life. Kozlowski was raised in a poor section of Newark, New Jersey, but he worked his way through college, went to work for Tyco, and became CEO, doubling the company’s business. Kozlowski enjoyed a life of extravagance and self-indulgence—much at the company’s expense. He bought homes in New York, Nantucket, and Colorado, bought a $30 million racing yacht, and installed his mistresses in Tyco-owned apartments, cost-free. But eventually, trouble came. The New York State Banking Department began tracking a series of unusual bank transfers—and New York’s district attorney investigated, leading to Kozlowski’s indictment on charges of corporate corruption. Was Kozlowski just another case of a poor kid who hits it big and then is overcome with his own greed? Well, yes, of course, he had an insatiable appetite for money and power. But though his case is extreme, can’t all of us understand what really drove him? He wanted to gratify his own desires, despite the consequences to others. In that way, he exemplifies the modern American desire for personal autonomy, defined as freedom from all restraints. His ultimate goal was to do just as he pleased—to be, in a sense, his own god. I have an idea that at the peakof Kozlowski’s wealth and fame, he found his life empty and meaningless. I did when I rose to great heights of political power. According to researchers, whom I cite in the book, a growing body of data points to the conclusion that the amount of money accumulated above middle-class comfort level has no impact on our happiness. They found instead that it’s social interaction and friendships that give us lasting pleasure in life. Can we conclude from this that our natures as humans are shaped in a certain way? The researchers certainly seem to think so, arguing that human behavior follows a predictable pattern—we are wired a certain way. And when we distort the way we are wired—or what I call the natural order of life—we find ourselves miserable. We all realize that there is a battle going on inside of us: One part of our nature says life has a higher purpose, and the other part wants to indulge all our desires. As I write in my book The Good Life, the task in life is to subdue our baser nature and govern ourselves by what we intuitively know to be our higher purpose, what we are made for. And that’s not hedonism or self-gratification. It is happiness the way the Greeks defined it, by the term eudaimonia, which means the virtuous life.


Chuck Colson


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