You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to uncover clues that our country, as well as many other nations around the world, are going through difficult economic times. The unfolding political dramas, both nationally and internationally, do little to instill public confidence in the governing process, let alone in financial and regulatory institutions that presumably are designed to safeguard and advance the public interest.
We’re now all to familiar with the mortgage meltdown, housing and credit crises, bank closings, enormous national debt, as well as the steady loss of jobs, including the all-too-frequent draconian job cuts, in corporate America. The U.S. economy, it’s probably fair to say, still seems far away from a full recovery. And to complicate matters further, the global economy, including the now fragile European Union, remains uncertain and volatile. To say the least, we are living in a highly stressful environment. And within this environment, more and more people are facing formidable challenges in their personal and work lives as they struggle to make ends meet.
It is against—and in response to—this increasingly complex backdrop with its
pervasive symptoms that more and more people around the world now find
themselves, both individually and collectively, looking for answers.
Many of you may remember the words uttered by former U.S. Senator and
economist, Phil Gramm, who downplayed the idea that the nation was in a
financial recession; instead, he “diagnosed” the situation as a “mental
recession,” likening the country’s (and its citizen’s) ills to what we all know
as mental depression. In this regard, Gramm provocatively said that “We
have sort of become a nation of whiners,…complaining about a loss of
competitiveness, America in decline.” Although I don’t happen to agree
with Senator Gramm’s diagnosis, I do believe that Americans, like all people,
must consciously and deliberately resist the human tendency to become
“prisoners of their thoughts.” Only in this way may we increase our
capacity to cope effectively and creatively with whatever comes our way in
life—from the smallest disappointments to the most formidable of life’s
challenges. And this includes our capacity, as individuals and as a
nation, to deal with the current economic crisis.
In this regard, I learned years ago from Thomas Moore, psychotherapist and
author of the bestselling book, Care of
The Soul, that our most soulful times are when we are “out of balance,” not
when we are in balance! In other words, it is when we are facing
formidable challenges and when we are dealing with crises, that we are most
likely to do some really deep “soul-searching.” And it is during these
especially difficult times when our will to meaning, that is, our
authentic commitment to meaningful values and goals, comes into sharp focus and
we are prompted to make key choices about what really matters to us and
in our lives.
Even our choice of attitude, I should add, is put to the test! We must
remember that, although we may not be totally free from the various conditions
or situations that confront us, we always can choose how we respond to them, at
the very least through our choice of attitude. Importantly, this requires that
we assume responsibility for exercising this ultimate
freedom by taking action, albeit through a positive mindset focused on the
power of intention, rather than resorting to a “poor me” attitude and a
“victim” mentality. Perhaps this is what Phil Gramm really meant, to
afford him the benefit of the doubt, by his insensitive-sounding diagnosis!
“Each of us has his own inner concentration camp…we must deal with, with
forgiveness and patienceas full human beings, as we are and what we will
Sometimes it is only when we enter a state of creative destruction that the
keys to our liberation from our “inner concentration camp” become visible to
us. Just like we can only recognize light by knowing darkness, we can
only move ourselves (and help others to do the same) towards the light by
moving away from darkness. By the same token, acknowledging the existence
is the first step towards meaning and enlightenment. The inherent darkness
that the economic crisis brings also provides a platform for taking creative
action towards the light of opportunity.
As odd as it may sound, there is always something positive that may
result from, or at least be associated with, something negative.
As one door closes, another one opens (If, of course, we are “open” to such
possibilities and are willing to take responsibility for walking through the
door.). As one door closes, we are given an opportunity to learn even
more about ourselves, including our true, core values, than we might have
thought was possible (If, of course, we really want to learn and grow
from our life experiences.). As one door closes, we are also challenged
to find creative solutions to our plight in ways that may even surprise us (If,
of course, we choose not be become or remain a victim of our circumstances.).
Finding “meaning” in the economic crisis, to be sure, is much easier said
than done. It often requires making sacrifices; sacrifices that we don’t
really want to make. For instance, who really wants to take a family “staycation,” that
is, a vacation spent at home, rather than going away to some exciting vacation
spot? At first blush, it doesn’t sound very appealing, does it?
However, besides creating an opportunity to save money and thereby place less
strain on the family’s budget, what else does this creative idea promise?
Well, families who have chosen the staycation route have made a commitment,
conscious or not, to spread the “sacrifice” by holding all family members,
parents and children alike, responsible for making it happen, as well as for
making it happen for the benefit of everyone. It’s no longer just the
parents who must sacrifice something for the sake of living in a postmodern
world where the paradox of choice and “affluenza” run rampant.
Moreover, going on staycation has actually brought family members together in
authentic and meaningful ways. And I suspect that when the family
eventually does plan for a getaway “vacation,” it will be valued more highly
and result in an even more memorable and, again, meaningful, experience!
On a more macro level, of course, the possibilities for finding “meaning” in
the economic crisis are also unlimited. In this connection, think about
how various organizational and societal ills at all levels may actually benefit from the forces of
creative destruction that we are witnessing in today’s world. Have you
ever known somebody who appeared to live her or his life on “cruise control” or
“auto-pilot?” You know, unaware of what really mattered? What was
really important to them and to those around them? And then they faced a
major, maybe even life-threatening, crisis—effectively, a life “wake-up
call?” More often than not, these people would describe such an
experience as transformative for them. On both personal and
collective levels, the “meaning” of the economic crisis also holds the promise
of being a transformative experience. But it can only be so if we do
not allow ourselves to become “prisoners of our thoughts!”
We sincerely believe in the power and resilience of human
beings and the human spirit. Yes, my dear Watson, there is an economic crisis but
you will get through it!
Dr. Alex Pattakos is the author of Prisoners
of Our Thoughts (www.prisonersofourthoughts.com)
and Dr. Elaine Dundon is author of The
Seeds of Innovation (www.seedsofinnovation.com).
They are co-authors of Innovating with Meaning (forthcoming).
Note: A second, revised and updated edition of Prisoners of Our Thoughts
will be released in July 2010.