In recent conversations, I have commiserated over furloughs, a slow real estate market, loss in investments, hiring freezes, and pay cuts. Since the words recession and depression have become a part of our everyday parlance, many of my colleagues, friends, and I have been talking as if we were victims of this recent economic downturn.
This past week, I began to wonder what we are really talking about? Almost everyone I know, except for some of the people who stand in the bus shelters I frequent, own or rent the roof over his or her head and will not go to bed hungry tonight.
So, why are the people with financial means commiserating over the recession? I’m growing more and more concerned about these conversations because I get so caught up in them. I act like a pathetic victim when, truth be told, more than my basic needs are met.
The endless tips about the best $5 lunches in town and how to protect your portfolio are distracting many of us from helping people whose need is real. Even if I blow all of our family’s savings in the coming months, we have family who love us and would help us out. If all else failed, I have kept a guestbook for fifteen years. We could visit or solicit the list.
In an unrelated conversation, one of my professors suggested I read Down and Out In Paris and London, an account by George Orwell, about his work in the kitchens of Paris and the streets of London. Over and over again, Orwell was penniless and had to hustle to figure out where to sleep and eat. He always knew exactly what being broke meant. He knew what it was like to hit bottom and this knowledge made the anxiety go away, he said.
George Orwell has helped me to understand that the conversations I have been having are not really about means or money. They are role play or an opportunity to talk poor or brag about being thrifty. For an example of the lure of this talk, read up on Hodding Carter’s latest venture.
The reality is I know where I am sleeping tonight and, if it rains, I will be dry. Conversations about becoming down and out in Chapel Hill are over.