I had the opportunity to have a conversation with a couple of good friends over the weekend. One of my buds had just bought a “new” car. I put the “new” in parentheses because it was 20 years old and had just over 100K miles on it. Even then, it was in better shape than the van he’s had ever since I’ve known him. That one had over 300K miles on it and was starting to give him just a bit of mechanical trouble.
As we were doing what guys do, namely looking over his new ride, opening the hood and the doors, noting this and that and swapping advice on how to keep a vehicle operating for a long time, the conversation turned to the economy. Not surprisingly, we all started noting the deteriorating conditions and the various things we were all doing just to get by. The proud owner of said new vehicle had lost his formerly good-paying job which he’d had for years and had lost his house as a result. They were familiar with my plight too: a lifetime spent absorbing everything I could inside the manufacturing arena only to be tossed aside as we abandoned our lead and were “guided” towards a service economy.
While our collective situations were not nearly as secure as they were a few years ago, we had all managed to make the necessary adjustments to our new normal of greatly reduced income. Despite our current financial woes, we all still had our typical sunny outlook.
Alcohol had nothing to do with it, I swear.
It was on my drive back home that I started to note something. We Americans really are different. We have an inborn resiliency. How much of this can be attributed to the natural state of humanity and how much is due to our society is up for debate. It’s the classic nature versus nurture question that we’ve debated ever since we could talk and reason amongst ourselves.
We have access to relatives who are able to remember what it was like when there were similar downturns in the economy. Mom had me later in her life; she grew up during the Great Depression. So I got to hear her horror stories about people living hand-to-mouth for years at a time. I also learned how to make do with less. Mom was resourceful when she wanted to be, especially in the kitchen. The only bad part that I saw was her tendency to place too high a value on money, a psychological scar that she embraced, sometimes irrationally. She tended to carry on as if we were still in a depression, when she could have enjoyed the fruits of her labor.
Since I seem to be on the lookout for any silver lining in a cloud, I’ve come to the conclusion that this recession, the worst in modern times, has the potential to be quite good for all of us. We’ve been forced to do more with much less. We’ve started to ask questions, particularly of our elected officials, notably why they aren’t doing more to get our economy back on the road again.
We’ve circled the wagons, to borrow a phrase. We’ve been forced by circumstances beyond our control to rediscover things within ourselves, things we’d forgotten because life was almost too good. Family and friends have become more important. Virtually everyone is in the same boat to varying degrees, and we have collectively and instinctively drawn our loved ones closer. Financial transactions now go through family members when possible, since banks won’t lend money to someone without a decent job. Bartering has taken the place of the greenback in some situations. Our social circle has expanded to include others in similar fashion. Charity on a personal level has increased dramatically. We’re helping each other more than ever.
Collectively, we’re coming together during these difficult times, as we are wont to do. It’s in our nature. We also have the great fortune of living in a country that has created a very high standard of living. Even the poor among us have a car, a computer, and a cell phone. Such are the fruits of capitalism.
Even in the worst of times, we are truly lucky to be Americans. And there’s nothing like hard times to make us even more aware of that.
But in the meantime, we’re going to be busy making lemonade out of the lemons we've been given.
It’s what we do.