Saturday, March 21, 2009

When the world turns upside down

I was at a gathering of women this evening, and we discovered that almost all of us, though this gathering was on our west coast island, were originally from "the other coast" -- mostly from New England, New York, and New Jersey.

One of the women had been back visiting recently, and was remarking upon how much harder the East Coast has been hit by the current economic crisis, and we got to talking about how the loss of a job can give you an opportunity to re-invent yourself, something most of us transplants know a lot about, as most of us came out here because we were looking for work. Several of us had been through periods of unemployment and had found quite a bit of fulfillment in developing new roles for ourselves.

But then, inevitably, one woman chimed in to say that her husband had just lost his job, and that it's much harder to reinvent yourself at 60 than it was at 30. She is an event manager, and one of her tasks over the years has been managing job fairs. She told us of one she put on just last week, where in past years 60 to 70 employers showed up looking for employees. They had to seriously redesign the exhibit space this year, because only 30 employers planned to come... and on the day of the job fair, only 14 actually showed up. For men like her husband, who arrived in suits looking for work, there was nothing -- and in Washington state 1000 people are losing their jobs each week.

For many if not most of us it's clear the world is going to be turning upside down -- if it hasn't already begun to flip. And, as with this image, that's going to change the way we look at everything. Something as simple as an image of the sun reflected in a parking lot puddle can take on a pretty ominous cast when the world has been turned upside down. And here's what worries me: I think this could easily begin to make communications more difficult. We will need to be conscious about being less prickly and sensitive about what others say to us -- to try not to get upset or blow things out of proportion; to understand both that we are edgy and that others are edgy, and that can make communications flow less smoothly.

And at the same time we will need to make an effort to be a bit more kind and tender with one another, more sensitive to each other's needs, more helpful and encouraging. I suspect this will prove challenging -- it is always more difficult to be sensitive to others' stress when we are stressed ourselves -- but at times like these we are going to need to rely on one another and look out for each other more than we have in the past; to help keep each other going and pick each other up when we fall. I don't think it will be enough any more for each of us to sit and stew in our own little puddles: the water is rising, and it will soon become obvious we're all in this together. I do feel incredibly hopeful about our future together, but it's clear we'll need to find -- or rediscover -- new ways to share each other's burdens. And some days a listening ear may be all we have to offer.

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