THE CONSTANT CHOICE is a remarkable story that transcends memoir or autobiography in favor of a reflective look at an unusual life. Chairman Emeritus of Young & Rubicam, Peter Georgescu has chosen to write a ground- breaking book about his unlikely path in business and his own illuminating journey in the world of faith. From his early days in a war camp in Romania to the top of one of the world’s greatest advertising agencies, Georgescu has struggled with the forces of both good and evil, which are often indistinguishable, disguised and difficult to differentiate from one another. His story offers a hope and clarity to those struggling in today’s confusing and frightening world.
In the author’s words:
Ironically, it turns out the greatest blessing of my life was having nearly been put to death in a work camp as a child in Romania, when my brother and I were forced into hard labor under the Communists. The brutal cruelty of this ordeal actually gave me a deeper appreciation for what’s genuinely good in human nature. It forced me to question the nature of evil for the rest of my life. In this lifelong interrogation of my own experiences, I discovered a way of understanding evil, as well as its opposite: the amazing compassion showered on me by complete strangers. This self-examination inspired in me a conviction that there must be something more to life than mere survival and self-interest. Now, so many years later, my personal quest for understanding has enabled me to see what’s both precious and illusory in the crucial choices we face now at so many levels of contemporary life.
This is probably an unusual manuscript to be receiving from a former CEO. Captains of industry tend to write about their success. I joined Young & Rubicam right out of graduate school and then rose to the top of the company, finishing up as Chairman and CEO. Yet, in looking back at what I achieved, I also remember most vividly the discontent, the questioning, the burning need to understand not only the cruelty of my Romanian captors, but the same kind of behavior I saw all too often around me in the world of business. Decades later, as an executive, I was still, psychologically, that little boy wanting people to be compassionate and understanding, still tormented by commonplace, everyday examples of evil all around me. As I worked my way up the corporate ranks, internally I was a mess, wanting to believe in what was good, vexed by so much evidence, even in this land of freedom and plenty, that human nature instinctively is capable of choosing a destructive path.
As I look around the world today, I feel humanity hitting a very rough patch. The world is ablaze with wars, genocide, violent rebellions against oppression, tribal confrontations and discord in our most advanced nations. Evils, big and small abound. Headlines herald the bad, the ugly, and the worst in us.
Decades of banner years have created a culture of entitlement and self-centeredness. Values and morals have too often been discarded in favor of gratifying our narcissistic impulses. History is being banished from our reality. It simply does not fit in the era of NOW, in the time of me and only me. There is simply no room left for the harsh lessons of history that could help deliver us wisdom.
Yet my own life, my own history held the keys to a sense of purpose and meaning for me. So, I dared to reach back in that history for nourishment. My book is a story, but not a typical one. I pull back from the narrative repeatedly to meditate on the significance of one experience after another, showing the reader not simply how I moved through my life, in observable ways, but also how my own spiritual turmoil built into a crisis and led me toward a new understanding of why people do what they do. It seems to me a story like this—the story of my life’s progress, as well as the story of my struggle to find meaning in it—can offer a source of hope many people desperately need right now. And that can lead to the kind of choices that will make a difference to far more than to the individuals who make them. We’re all too cognizant of the crisis we face at all levels. People are in pain, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually—they fear an entire way of life is heading toward a dead end. The problems are legion: global economies in crisis, a divisive political system in Washington, joblessness, divorce, drug use—you can add any of a dozen other markers for the decline of our culture. Many respond with anger, denial, or greed. If what we enjoy now isn’t going to last much longer, get what you can while it lasts. That seems to be a key motive in so much of what has brought our economy to its knees. And in the media and politics, it’s all about the other guy. He’s wrong, and I’m right. What’s needed most is an awareness that we’ve all been wrong on occasion, and yet many of us keep trying to get it right.
This book urges a reawakening of a moral consciousness, an awareness that evil resides in our own behavior, not just on the other side of the aisle or across town or across the globe. This book addresses readers as people with a deep need for meaning and purpose in their lives, showing them how one man found both, and suggesting that they can follow the same path in their own lives. My book shows that if you focus, without flinching, on your own experience and behavior—and begin to see why we often do the terrible things we do as ordinary human beings—you can move beyond your own instincts toward something new. You can begin to become a better person. To recognize the worst in our human nature is the first step toward freeing yourself from it. It’s the beginning of genuine hope, selfless hope, not the sort that precedes a turn of the roulette wheel. Though it’s a testimony to the pervasive reality of this evil in the world, this book points to a new way of understanding the origin of these impulses and suggests a new way of taking responsibility for them. A recognition of evil’s universal presence in human life represents the door, for me, toward hope. It led me to recognize a spiritual force for goodness within all of us.
Throughout life, I have felt the positive force of optimism and hope. Yet, I have become convinced that humanity’s fate is not assured. We have been shown the way to the city on the hill. We have been graced with extraordinary role models throughout history. Still, it’s up to us, every one of us, to move mankind toward that ultimate potential.
I can even hope that this one journey of discovery and internal struggle can help the reader commit to making the world a better place. And, after all, that may well be our most important mission while we’re here.