By Rachel DeMille
Seems like the only thing left to do is buy food storage and gas masks. Wait, what? Did you say something? I'm hearing some shy mumbles from the back of the room... No, come on, it's okay--speak up... Okay, just whisper it to me...
Really? You mean that?
Guess what I'm hearing? It doesn't seem to make any sense, but I have to admit that I've been thinking the same thing. I'm hearing that in spite of everything going to the dogs, you don't feel appropriately discouraged. In fact, you're saying that you feel a strange sense of peace, of purpose, of resolution. You're saying that somehow the difficulties in the world don't seem personally, deeply threatening. No, that's not perfectly accurate--you do have concerns about the future; but somehow the over-riding feeling is a particular rightness of things that doesn't seem to jibe with the
Guess what? I feel it too.
You know what I think? I don't think we're in denial. I think we were born for such a time as this. I think many of you men, and women, have never felt completely at home in the post-industrial consumerist society. You never felt inclined to play the game, and you were never really rewarded by that system for your greatest
gifts, sacrifices and contributions. And I think that all of a sudden you are feeling like the "game" is almost over.
It may be that's too pessimistic a prediction. But even if things mellow out a bit on the "Now what??!! " chart, all this turmoil in the wake of 9/11 has definitely taken the buzz out of the feel-good high our society has been trying to maintain. It's looking like the bliss we purchased on credit over the last few years has
finally been repossessed by thugs in business suits. The house has folded, the cashier is closed, and the world is starting to talk about things that really matter to you with a new sense of earnestness that gives you hope.
It sort of has a familiar feeling to me. It's like when you go to a funeral--a good one. You know, a very old person who was well beloved and ready to move on. There is a mixed feeling of sobriety in learning to live with the loss and joy for a life well-lived.
And there is no small measure of introspection as those in attendance shed, for a time, the trivialities of everyday life and share love and grief, comfort one another and allow past rifts to fade in importance.
I think that as a society we are figuratively attending just such a funeral. There is mourning, yes. It was a good run, wasn't it? We were greatly blessed by the ease of that age. But there is also peace, and yes, resolve. We will be better people because of this loss.
Okay, I've made my point. Almost too well--the not-bummer bummer. Luckily, I have another point to make. This one builds on the first one, and is an even bigger not-bummer. In fact, I think you could accurately say that it's an anti-bummer.
As I said, this point builds on the first one, which I will reiterate in simple terms: The Rules Just Changed. In order to elaborate on this, I would like to first codify the old rules and explain their application, and then The New Reality.
1. If you're not completely satisfied, return it for a full refund. Whether it's a new cell phone or an old husband, you can always change your mind. Customer satisfaction is our highest priority, and we have the resources to secure your business.
The New Reality: Business will increasingly put restrictions (re-stocking fees, time limits, store credits) on their refund policies. Fewer businesses will have deep pockets for providing us with unquestioning customer service to satisfy our unrestrained indecision, carelessness and disloyalty. Consumers will be more
conservative in their purchases and will be more inclined to recycle and reuse.
In societal terms, the reduced affluence and tighter job market will induce many people to realign their criteria for success to more manageable, human terms. Since they have little control over downsizing and market contractions, they will increasingly look for fulfillment in personal development. This bodes well for
relationships and marriages, as well as for businesses and institutions that serve the personal development market niche.
The minimized emphasis on absolute satisfaction and increased conservatism in new acquisitions will translate to more invested partners who are willing to work on repairing and revitalizing existing relationships instead of shopping around. The
trickle-down to more stable families, more spiritually engaged congregations, more dedicated community service and more altruisticphilanthropy will make up a lot of the difference in social services that may be abridged on a governmental level.
We can only hope that reduced government budgets might also result in reduced regulation and allow more freedom for innovation and initiative, which will in turn awaken in the Average Jane or Joe a shift from "it's not my problem" to "if not me, then who?".
2. Risk is absorbed by the government and/or corporations. Failure is unacceptable in our society. We'll take care of you. Your deposits are protected, your child will not be left behind, a chicken in every pot.
The New Reality: The old American virtues of getting up off the mat and pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps will gain new ascendancy as people's expectation of rescue is diminished and the necessary societal values of self-reliance and interdependence within a local community, including caring for our own, are
re-awakened in the cultural psyche. The government's ultimate failure (and the public's acknowledgement of it) to be everything to everybody will put pressure on government to incentivize private and grass-roots ventures that seek to fill the gap.
This is good news for businesses that focus on social entrepreneurship, and to needy individuals who are merely disadvantaged by a circumstance that has a simple remedy. No need to enroll in a program with rules and compliance doctrines. Get
what you need (whether it be a business suit for job interviews or a week's groceries until your first paycheck starts), say thanks and move on. Allow your neighbors to fill your need, and do what you can to be somebody else's solution. In the past several decades, such solidarity and cooperation were hard to come by; but
the New Reality will bring out our true spirit of community. The now-petty domestic squabbles won't mean anything when compared with the need to face together our common threats in order to succeed.
3. You get what you pay for. Whether you invest in social security, Medicare or a college degree, your future is taken care of.
The New Reality: Prestige and security are no longer feasible priorities. The safest investment is in human capital. The new system will reward those who add value in very practical terms. Translation: the old idea of a prestigious diploma being a ticket
to a great future is going the way of the dodo and the cassette player.
We've long known that college education and job training are rarely the same thing. The New Reality contains the additional bummer that a degree will no longer be any substantive advantage to entering a secure or profitable career. The professions that used to be the realm of prosperity: medicine, law, big business, finance--are not only so highly taxed, regulated and litigated as to suck the profitability out of them, they are also the industries to take the hardest hit in the new bummer paradigm. Pretty much all those blokes now work de facto for the government, and the
government's flat busted.
What does this mean for you and me? It means, to say it again, that an investment in human capital is our best bet for our free and prosperous future, and that of our posterity. In plain terms: be your own best asset. Not your house, your resume, your bank account. You. Learn the things about history, economy, politics, human nature, relationships, finances, health and so forth that make you an asset in every situation, to everyone you meet. As you do this, you will be able to recognize opportunities and marshal resources to rise to those opportunities. You will be a blessing to your family and community throughout your life, no matter the changing circumstance. In fact, as Socrates argued to Crito, even your death cannot mitigate your value to your children and the others you influence. Your nobility, your virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage, will inspire greatness in others and move the cause of liberty.
This is an amazing opportunity for those who deal in self-help, private academies, online teaching and alternative higher education. With a more level playing field, the dinosaurs of the late era cannot compete. Their overhead, their lack of agility and their competing priority to maintain their previous splendor will render them unresponsive to the new marketplace; and those with the ability to deliver educational opportunities at a fraction of their cost will gobble up their clientele--certainly enough of it to allow for a vibrant and competitive atmosphere where choices abound and opportunities for education for this time will be economically viable for both the service provider and the consumer.
It boils down to this: if you've been putting off getting your financial house in order, making amends with your physical health, building great family relationships and/or getting a world-class education, then there is no time like the present to take the next right step. Consider carefully before investing in other things over which you have little control. Define success and progress in terms of becoming and serving. The other baskets look like they might go up in flames. Time to put your eggs in your basket.
The new realities feel, to individuals born with your particular package of gifts and aspirations, like coming home. You were born to help people in crisis. You were born to fix things. You were born to lead with moral courage (either by force of personality or by quiet example) in a time when the figurative earth is quakingunder the feet of everyone else around you and they want someone to hold on to.
So back to the original question: Now what?
My answer: the time, the circumstances, the opportunities are all in place; this is your time to shine.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous,talented and fabulous?
Actually who are we not to be?
You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn't serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.
And when we let our own light shine,
we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence automatically liberates others.
Used by permission of the author. Copyright, Rachel DeMille, 2008.