On being ... a time to pause

By Ingrid Sapona

I pay pretty close attention to the business news -- and even if I didn’t -- it’s kind of hard to miss headlines about plunging stock markets, credit crises, growing unemployment, Wall Street bailouts, and government debt measured in trillions. In the initial weeks of the crisis I tried valiantly to keep up with all that was going on (or going wrong).

As I struggled with concepts like sub-prime mortgages and credit swaps, however, I started feeling stupid. But after awhile I began to realize I’m not the only one who doesn’t understand it all (or even much of it). Seems to me lots of people in high places aren’t much better versed in the whole thing than yours truly. (Though many of them have pay grades that would make you think they should understand it a whole lot better.)

Not too long after the economy went into a tailspin came headlines about the need to fix what’s broken. Only thing is -- the problems are so wide-spread, there are no obvious fixes. At first I was impressed with all the weekend-long crisis meetings going on. (Think back to those marathon weekend sessions where -- apparently -- the U.S. financial system was saved from the brink of collapse because firms like AIG were rescued.)

Then there was news about the U.S. automakers’ near collapse. Never fear, however, Congress is on top of it, so we were led to believe. Hearings were held and lawmakers made a big show of reprimanding the Detroit execs for their bad decisions (including their choice of transportation to the hearings) and telling them to go away and not come back until they got their facts and figures straight. Eventually, just when it looked like everyone was ready to play Let’s Make a Deal, the negotiation ended because someone -- the UAW or the Senate -- left the table in a huff.

Next thing we know, Congress adjourned until the New Year – leaving many wondering how they could do that when -- up till then -- they had been acting like there were fires all over that had to be put out. At first I was astounded that Congress recessed. How could they do that when there’s so much to be done, I thought. (I won’t go into details but we had a “constitutional crisis” of sorts here in Canada -- the long and short of it is that our members of Parliament went home too in early December and they won’t resume sitting until late January -- not coincidentally -- just after Obama is sworn in.) But lately I’ve reconsidered and I actually think it’s a good thing that the lawmakers are on hiatus.

It’s not that I think the crisis has subsided or even that we’ve hit bottom and so things have got to be going up. It’s just that I think talk of crisis breeds further crisis -- everyone remembers the frenzy Chicken Little caused running around yelling that the sky’s falling. (I’m not saying the economic situation is a mere acorn -- though, in the grand scheme of things -- who knows, it may be…)

Interestingly, the story of Chicken Little apparently has different endings. In some versions Foxy Loxy, who offers to help Chicken Little, ends up eating her; in other versions another animal warns Chicken Little that the fox is up to no good and she escapes uneaten. I learned the one where Chicken Little gets eaten, which is why I took the moral of the fable to be: don’t overreact and don’t trust everyone who says they’ll help! Given this, I guess you can understand why I think the hiatus our leaders are on might provide an opportunity to curb the frenzy that their behaviour had contributed to, not to mention it may buy us some time to help ensure we don’t rush head-long toward “help” that ends up being harmful (if not fatal).

I can’t help think that with fewer distractions from people in Washington and Ottawa the rest of us may be more inclined to reflect on our own situation, as well as on our families, our communities, and even our faith. We can also use this lull in government action as a time to start taking matters into our own hands to help ourselves better weather the storm -- whether that means taking a cold hard look at our own finances, or reining in our spending, or maybe just starting an honest dialog with other family members to make sure they understand their role in the family’s financial picture.

I know that for many, the economic downturn means the holidays will not be what they’re used to -- or perhaps what they had hoped. But this time of year is a time for blessings -- and even if you don’t do anything else while we’re waiting for our leaders to return to work -- I urge you to pause and count your blessings. If we all do this, I know we’ll find that we’re really not as bad off as it might seem.

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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