|Forty days. In politics that can be the equivalent of several lifetimes. For the rest of us it can symbolize a needed pause to re-center our internal compass. The roots of the ritual of fasting and prayer run very deep and are prevalent in almost all religions for very good reasons. Taking a pause, reflecting on how one can better oneself and better serve others, is in large part what binds the social fabric. If we’re not our brother’s and sister’s keeper, then what are we? If we don’t help those most in need of our help, how can we be forgiven for our own failings? If we don’t live up to higher expectations, then what’s the point of life? Many today would argue that they are, in fact, looking out for their brothers and sisters, for those most in need of help and striving to live up to higher standards. But as they do, there is another lesson all should focus on and never lose sight of, that it’s a lot easier to like our friends than our enemies, but that if all we do is like our friends, we can never truly be our brother’s and sister’s keeper, never really help all those that are most in need of our help, and never live up to the higher expectations. It is the hate of enemies that has been and ever will be our downfall. We must overcome it.
What this means to you – Catholics across the world will mark the start of the Lenten season next Ash Wednesday with a cross on foreheads made by ash from palms. These same palms, the prior year, were used to mark a more joyous occasion, and turned to ash to remind us of the inevitability of life. That we are dust and to dust we will return. But what we do in the interim matters. Several years ago we published a paper laying out a framework to design financial incentives in a manner that frees motivation instead of trying to enslave it in forced behavioral modification. The motivation to do what’s right is the most powerful driver of positive change. For clinicians that motivation comes from a deep desire to heal the sick, and financial incentives often get in the way. But we can (and do) design programs that are based on a simple premise: first do no harm. Reduce all the possible negative incentives and watch what happens. It’s an approach that transcends the “you’re wrong, I’m right” stance that so many have taken, because it centers on the essential internal compass. During these next forty days, if all those engaged in payment innovation took a hard look at their programs, reflected on what pieces could potentially create harm, and then changed the program to remove those harmful elements, we would emerge a lot better off than we are now. Lent calls for giving something up, and what we should give up is arrogance and self-righteousness, and remember that we are here to serve for a greater good, not to be served.