(I wrote this on January 9, 2009. Figured it was time to post it.)
On msnbc.com there’s an interactive map of the US, showing the unemployment rates for each state. I helped my mouse travel around the country, saddened when I noticed my wife’s parents’ home state of Michigan at 7.3%. Everybody knows that Detroit’s been hit pretty hard, but when people you love live there it gets personal, more painful. My home, California, was at 5.6%.
Then I realized the top slider was on September of 2007.
With much hesitance, I slid the tracker along the timeline and watched the map change from lighter shades of green to darker hues, grimacing as percentages slowly climbed. Michigan turned to black first—signifying a 8-10% unemployment rate—followed by Rhode Island, and then California. We added South Carolina and Oregon to our glum ranks in November.
I realized that today in Michigan, if you have a party at your house with 10 people, one of you doesn’t have a way to pay your bills.
I don’t know if this happens anymore, but when I was a kid we learned a song in school. It started with the lyrics: “God bless America; land that I love. Stand beside her, and guide her through the night with a light from above.”
Well, a light to cut through the darkness sounds pretty good right about now.
It doesn’t take too much time surfing across the internet news channels to begin to wonder when—or if—we will bounce back from this. And even though you and I might not be suffering, for so many of our brothers and sisters the crisis is already personal, and their anxiety nearly palpable, bleeding from the pictures we see and the stories we read.
In six days we’ll have a new president. The weight of the world will transfer to new shoulders and the country will look in his direction for something he’s promised us: hope. And even as the administration shifts, talks will likely continue in the direction towards economic growth being our panacea. But I’m wondering about a few things.
For example, wasn’t it at least partially a mentality of a perpetual growth that brought us here, to where we are? Like most strengths, I am afraid that our insatiable thirst for “more” also drags a shadow along with its unmatched productivity: greed.
If that’s true, the solution cannot simply be more growth.
Perhaps instead, might the way out be a better management of what we already have…?
Have you ever known a family to solve their problems by working longer hours? Of course not. So then, why do we think that, as a unified family of Americans, our results would be any different?
As much as I dislike the idea, it’s good for me to remember how rich I am. Honestly, it feels much better for me to go on thinking that I am poor, that I don’t have enough; to compare myself to those who have more than I do.
We, as Americans, have a unique opportunity at this point in history to stop and realize some things. To open our eyes to the fortune in our lives. To see the abundance that constantly surrounds us. To consider that maybe it’s time we sing a new song. Maybe God’s already blessed America. And if that is true, instead of recognizing our responsibility to share that abundance with the world, we have instead simply let it inspire a hunger for more… for us.
A government cannot solve our problems; it cannot legislate a solution to something that is, at its core, a localized crisis. And as much as I might like him to, Barack is not going to stop by my house and tell me how to manage my money or teach me how to be more generous with it.
Yes, there is hope for us. But it will not dawn with the inauguration of a new president. Hope will come when we, as a family of resilient American brothers and sisters stand tall and accept the responsibility for our own actions. It will come when we wake up and embrace the quiet resolve and mature compassion that recognizes the butterfly effects of our choices and that we, as human beings, were meant to be connected.
And that we will need each other if we want to discover a new path for a sustainable and successful life for all of us.
Hope will not come searching for us; it will not pop up from an interactive widget on the internet, arrive in the mail with a paycheck, or show up at your door to do your budget. But if we look, I have no doubt that we will find it.