As hard times go, this current economic downturn isn’t my first rodeo. When I single girl living on my own, there was a time when I had to decide between buying cat food or taking my clothes to the laundromat (the cat won, of course, and some careful hand-washing got me through to my next paycheck). Other times, I couldn’t pay my rent on time, and there was even a night or two spent reading by candlelight because the power was turned off.
And in the last ten years, there have been only a few blessed times when paying the bills hasn’t required some sort of schedule.
But this is the first time that I’ve been so aware that most of us, on some level, are holding our breath, cutting back, cutting corners, even giving up trips through Starbucks (the horror!). We stretch our dollars like rubber bands and hope they don’t break. Some are glad every night when they leave work because they didn’t get laid off that day. Many have already lost jobs and wonder how to pay for this week’s round of groceries.
So when I hear from someone for whom things are going particularly well, mostly because s/he’s telling me that things are going particularly well, it can be a little hard to hear. (My good friend wrote a little something about this yesterday, along a different-but-related and very funny vein.) My tolerance is really low these days for anything (anyone) that screams of entitlement or look at me. More than once, Tom and Daisy Buchanan have come to mind. Remember them?
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy – they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
Make you think of anyone? Execs at AIG, who should know better than to even consider taking those bonuses, or top dogs at GM who flew privately to Washington to ask for a bailout. Or the couple who can’t wait to show you the photos from their trip to Italy even though they know you couldn’t even afford to take the kids out for Italian food last weekend.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s always room for success, for accomplishments and good news, and I’m generally happy to hear it. But I enjoy hearing it more if it’s delivered in the right spirit (which is that of not bragging). That’s true at any time, but especially now. Like telling a joke, it’s all in the delivery. Humility and grace go a long way, and if you want people to be happy for you, it’s best not to beat them to death with a thing. Hearing good news once, especially now, is probably just about enough.
Here’s the other side of it. I’m no economist (Dr. Gibson, my college macroeconomics professor can vouch for that, just as I can vouch for how many times he said nonetheless in one hour), but I know enough to know that a rising tide lifts all boats. If people are doing well, if businesses report good numbers, if we can shore up the levy of jobs and benefits, then it’s good for all of us. I get it.
We need good news. We need for things to get better.
So say it loud and proud if you have a great business idea that’s going to provide 20 or 200 new jobs. I’ll be the first one on my feet, cheering.
Look, all I’m saying is that being sensitive to others and what they might be going through is just kindness and respect – good manners – in any economic climate. Maybe all it takes is picking the right audience. Don’t complain about how exhausted you are after your vacation to someplace fabulous, except maybe to the people next to you on the plane who are coming home from the same vacation.
Because most of us are in the same leaky boat these days, and chances are, if all you can talk about is how well things are going for you, and it will stand out so much from the rest of the chatter that a lot of people are bound to hear it.
Just don’t be surprised if the person who gets thrown overboard is you.