Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Other Human Cost of the Economic Crisis; A Quiet Storm

Everybody knows that the fallout from today's problematic US economy causes financial loss, loss of homes, loss of jobs, and other tangible devastation, but there is another more insideous casualty, one that often takes a back seat to the other more measurable losses, and that is its effect on human relationships.

Although one would theorize that when you remove money and material things from the equation man's first reaction would be to band together with those closest, pool resources, and make relationships front and center of one's life, valuing those relationships more than ever, too often the very stress that brought one to that point threatens to tear apart those near and dear.

Perhaps this is the cruelest effect of all, as one can replace money and things later, but the bonds we forge with other fellow human beings are as unique as snowflakes, no two of them alike. These cannot be duplicated or substituted, and people, unlike money and things aren't interchangeable.

It's too easy for people to turn on one another in times of extreme financial stress; wife against husband, sibling against sibling, son or daughter against parent, or friend against friend. In the heat of the moment when backs are against the wall some rather than reaching out may close in and begin operating from a place of  "every man for himself" in the fear that if they dare to offer help to another they might lose their balance, fall and never be able to get up again.

Things said (or not said) are often taken the wrong way or have meaning ascribed that was not intended, and at a time when support is most needed it seems to fall on deaf ears or is not counted. One can become so overwhelmed with their current circumstance that they don't see what you're doing in reciprocity and misinterpret a simple request that may be merely part and parcel of the give and take in a relationship as their being taken for granted.

In an environment when money has lost its value I think some people begin to treat what they do for others in their relationships as though it were a product with a specific market value and in their state of agony they create a mental checklist of what favors are worth on both sides, deducing by some faulty assessment that theirs are worth more than yours. I hate to see this because it pits otherwise friendly people against each other, more like enemies or adversaries than friends or relatives.  Besides, everyone has their own unique skill set and "assetts" and therefore what each brings to the table is valid in its own right. The best relationships are those in which the people compliment each other, not duplicate each other.

One person, for instance might not be able to drive and that's one way that the other person can be of help and support to them, and the other person may have a skill they can teach the other, provide them lunch, crochet them a scarf, etc.

Our society in many ways is moving more and more towards a bartering society and my theory is that most people are still feeling their way around in order to try to adapt, and some aren't adapting all that well to this new reality. This is when interpersonal problems can arise.

For me it is not hard to grasp how to make this kind of system work because I've never had alot of money and have had to rely on other creative means to "pay" people back, but to those who are used to having money and don't have it now for the first time in their lives, I can imagine it must take alot of getting used to. Those individuals are used to being paid cash, and lots of it, are not used to waiting, and now they feel they're not getting paid what they're "worth" and so they feel cheated. Unfortunately one cannot manage personal relationships like you run a fortune 500 company. It may be easier if you could because you'd always know where you stand, but on the otherhand that would still place the two at odds to some extent and it lacks the warmth and trust inherent in a personal relationship. There are these gray areas in relationships that are not so gray in business, but if there is basic trust these can be navigated and worked through.

One would like to think that those closest to you will have your back through thick and thin, and that they know you care about them too even in times of stress and that you have theirs too; that such human connections stand the test of time, money problems, health problems, and other adversities,  and that trust will endure in spite of all that. One would hope that those closest will recognize that you are not the enemy; the circumstance is, and will eventually come around to realize that their frustration was misappropriated, and that the relationship will end up stronger.

As human beings our very survival depends on the give and take that goes on in relationships and our search for connection is an interal part of what allows us to overcome the obstacles we encounter.
If we remind ourselves and our loved ones to hang in there and to resist the urge to pull away there is hope that these adversities can be put behind us, as we forge ahead in this "brave new world". Together we stand; divided we fall, so let's make a conscious decision to stand together in this tough economy!


Brett Ward said...

I think all I can say is, Thank You for writing this.
My partner and I have come to some similar conclusions and in our relationship, we had begun doing some of the negative things you mention. We caught ourselves, and stopped it. You would think that people would ban together in tough times, but the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness cloud the better part of us and take away from us,leaving us with nothing left to give. I am grateful we caught it and stopped it before we were left with nothing to give.

Howling Caterpillars said...

Very very nice!
Lots of folks don't/can't/weren't taught to think like that...