As the U.S. economy continues to be in a recession with the unemployment rate in the 9% range for over a year, and foreclosures and bankruptcies setting historic records, I find myself thinking more and more of the sentiment that one of the descriptions of true personal integrity is how you treat people who can do nothing for you.
We are all part of a reality today in which many of our past business associates, friends, and family members are losing their jobs or businesses on a normal basis. We are watching many remain unemployed for what even a couple of years ago would have been considered an unimaginable long period of time.
We all know people whom have had their working hours cut or have accepted a job that would legitimately have seemed woefully underemployed for them just a year ago.
I personally know two friends that are facing foreclosure and one past business associate that is facing corporate and personal bankruptcy due to the failing economy. All were successful for years in white-collar jobs and have never had a financial problem in their lives prior to 2008.
As the Great Recession has continued on, these are not people that lived way above their means or bought more house than their income could have legitimately afforded.
These are not people that were not productive in their employment as a reason they were let go. Many had a business that was successful for years prior to 2008 or 2009.
Many seem shell-shocked it is even possible this is happening to them. These sobering observations have had me noting more fully how the people in my circles treat the severely affected.
I am asking myself what is my personal integrity in this recession. Am I a “recession weather” friend? The reactions to the recession misfortune of people in my circle run the gamut:
I have some in my circle that have found the recession to be a boom for them. They still have jobs or businesses, and some are even doing better than prior to 2008.
This group’s talk at social gatherings is full of excitement over all the bargains out there in stocks, vacations, vacation or investment property, etc. They cannot wait to tell you about the great deal they just got on the new SUV Hybrid or the picture window sized flat screen television they just bought.
They post on Facebook how wonderful their life is or on LinkedIn how wonderful their business is going. Or, they post how much they hate their job (which of course seems to be recession-proof) or the last business meeting they felt forced to endure at work.
If I see one more FB post about how much those not affected by the recession hate Mondays or cannot wait for Friday to get here on Tuesday, I am going to scream.
I am a believer in creating and living in prosperity and wish nothing but success for all people. Yet, I notice this group seems to have not received the nation’s internal email that many are struggling, conspicuous consumption may not be in the best taste right now, and that some of their FB comments in general seem a bit insensitive to the times – or at least they do to me.
I have found this group in my circle to be quite self-absorbed in some ways. Were they always like this, or am I just seeing it for the first time?
With this realisation, I am forced to ask myself, “In my very best financial years am I like this?” I hate to admit it to myself, but yes, I have been insensitive to others at times in the past.
This group tells me, yes, they have been getting tons of networking emails and calls lately from laid-off friends, but they do not really seem to understand or empathise much with their plight. Some may make a call or two on behalf of their closest friends, but many tell me they find these calls awkward and are tired of dealing with them.
I am sure some in this group in general are trying to help those who can do nothing for them, but I a not seeing a lot of that personally. I find the ones that are volunteering to help others are simply those that have always volunteered.
I have some in my circle that still have their jobs for now or are hanging on to their businesses by a thread. The majority of this group seems scared – very scared.
Some in this group dominate every conversation with how terrible it is as misery loves company, and they feel they are next to lose their job or to fail.
Some seem stuck in fear and are just saving every penny they can to prepare for what they say they know is without a doubt coming. Some are preparing for what they see as their pending unemployment by applying for every job they can right now.
They are the ones making the networking calls for their own survival and see themselves as being realistic and proactive. They certainly are able to understand and empathise with the recession misfortune around them personally.
I am noticing many in this group are happy to help those that are looking for employment. They are willingly taking the “can you help me” calls from people without looking at it as an awkward call. I am also noticing though this helpfulness extends the most to those that call not looking for what would be their own specific job title.
I am finding a lot from this group are volunteering more at their church and other charitable foundations or volunteering for the first time. Many, but not all, seem to be doing a lot to help those who can do nothing for them.
As I mentioned earlier, I have some in my circle that have been unemployed for quite a while now and some that are facing the dire consequences of vanished resources.
The majority in this group seems to fall into one of two extremes – they seem either completely stuck and legitimately do not know what to do or where to turn, or they seem unexplainably calm with a knowing that they can get through anything even foreclosure or bankruptcy if it comes to this.
This group of course genuinely understands and has empathy for those affected by the recession, for they are living the heaviest afflictions of the recession.
I find most in this group have not been willing to talk about their exact circumstances openly due to pride and embarrassment. I find the openness to admit severe hardship depends on their economic status prior to the recession’s affect on them.
My working class circle talk more openly about it than my middle or executive class circle. I think this is because they do not equate hardship and loss with failure as much.
Ironically, this group, at any economic status, whom has the most limited financial resources and less helpful network resources, now seems to be the most open to helping those that can do nothing for them.
Case in point – I have a single mother friend who went from owning her own popular Bar & Grill to losing her business in 2008 to being on food stamps and faced foreclosure in 2009. She is now doing a little bit better two years later but not much.
Another single mother friend of mine who has been struggling with her normal 45 hour work week being cut to 25 hours shared with me that she would not be able to feed her children properly except for the first friend sharing her food stamp card with her to buy groceries the last few months.
This friend does not qualify for food stamps even with the reduced hours. Without any judgment on the legality of it, I was so completely touched by this act of generosity given by one hardest hit by the recession to another whom could do nothing for them.
I know the recession and our willingness to provide resources to those who need help is a touchy subject today in the U.S. If this discussion takes place in the political environment, it can be explosive with debate centering on personal responsibility and whether or not the U.S. is moving toward socialism and away from capitalism.
I am “best-ideas” politically, and I do believe in personal responsibility and that America’s capitalism is what made us innovative and wealthy enough to send aid to less fortunate countries throughout the world. Politics is not meant to be a part of this discussion. It is about people now, not politics.
Not necessarily thinking in terms of the entire world or the entire U.S., but thinking in terms of just your own personal circles of people, how are you treating those who can do nothing for you? Are you a “recession weather” friend?
This recession has made me realise there is indeed a difference between compassion and empathy. I think everyone in my circle has compassion for the less fortunate.
I think maybe true empathy – being able to think and act from the perspective of putting yourself in someone else’s circumstance – may really only be enhanced for most by having circumstances in the example of unemployment be real or a real possibility.
Does empathy trump compassion in how we approach taking networking calls and responding with focused intent to help those in our circles who are seeking employment?
I hope we will all stop and remember, there for the grace of God goes me.
I hope we will all be genuinely good friends in our thoughts and actions during the Great Recession to those around us. Turbulent times often bring out the best in people.
Trials in one’s life often leave a lasting positive effect. I hope enhanced empathy and sensitivity can be qualities we all carry with us out of this recession when it ends.
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