On the road to reinventing
Everywhere I go I hear people discussing the need to reinvent themselves. Graduates are turning in textbooks for paychecks. Recently married, widowed or divorced couples are trying to adjust to their new status in life. Senior citizens are trying to figure what to do as retirees wearing hearing aids.
All of these individual transitions are taking place amidst rapidly changing geopolitical, technological and international economic shifts. Everything is so interrelated that what affects one member of a family affects the whole family. What affects the housing market affects our banking system. The smokestacks of our coal-powered industries spew out contents that float upward and outward with consequences in places far beyond their origin. Hurricane Katrina affected the Asian stock market, and the tsunami in Japan made its mark on us. When a foreign country defaults on a loan or goes on the warpath, it affects every nation. To quote John Muir, ‘We all dwell in a house of one room.’
When taken as a whole, that house is in a bit of an economic turmoil right now. We know that the Great Depression influenced people’s thinking and behavior for the rest of their lives. My parents were newlyweds when the stock market crashed and, after that, they never wasted a cent or threw anything out. The question being asked by economists today is, since we are now experiencing the worst economic period in 70 years, how is this ‘Great Recession’ going to influence us? How are we going to view business ethics, investments, risk taking and security? Will we seek long-term employment or upward mobility by job hopping? Will we trust institutions, other nations and the stock market? Will we expect and accept lower pay, less compelling jobs and later retirement? Will we anticipate that luck, more than effort, will determine our success? All these mindsets and actions have strong consequences that will affect our mental health, our families and our communities. And, yes, even the stability of our world.
The great thinker Albert Einstein said, ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’ We must reinvent ourselves. I received a bracelet from my granddaughter for Christmas that is inscribed, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’
Hard times can bring out the best in folks. We can ‘stop and smell the roses,’ as they say, rather than keep ‘chasing the all-mighty dollar.’ We can help each other out rather than ‘looking out for No. 1.’
Rana Foroohar, who grew up in a farm community in Indiana, writes eloquently and professionally about the ‘New Normal.’ She says it ‘will likely be the opposite of the hyper-capitalist market culture of the past 25 years.’ Foroohar is assistant managing editor for Time, overseeing the magazine’s business and economic coverage.
You might want to read her article in the Jan. 23, 2012, issue. She writes about Warren Buffett and his views on making money, being a decent person and finding your way in this world. Genes, luck and birthplace may have helped make Buffett the world’s third-richest man, but, in the past year, his good fortune has also turned him into one of America’s most unexpected radicals. He’s an ardent capitalist who is demanding higher taxes on the rich and more government spending to solve our economic problems. Although he is giving away 99 percent of his $45 billion fortune, he operates less out of a sense of noblesse oblige than no-blesse outrage. The country that made him rich is lousy with bailout billionaires, a culture of selfishness and a loss of opportunities.
‘We can rise to any challenge, but not if people feel we’re in a plutocracy,’ he says. ‘We have to get serious about shared sacrifice.’
Buffet explains, ‘With the right rules, our system can work again. It’s like Martin Luther King said: ‘We aren’t trying to change the heart. We’re trying to restrain the heartless.’ Isn’t that what government is all about?’
I was watching a rerun of the police detective TV show ‘Monk.’ The main character, for whom the show is named, is a quirky fellow who finds that his phobias get in the way of his work. In a moment of sobriety, he says, ‘I am afraid to change, and I am afraid not to change.’ This is the dilemma we all face when we reinvent ourselves. Let us have patience with others and ourselves in the process and, as with Monk, find a bit of humor along the way.