19 March 2009

People Just Want To Feel Good Right Now

"People just want to feel good right now" is a sentiment I heard from a friend earlier this week.

"We're tired of all this bad news all the time. We want some relief."

But is this desire a valid one, given where we are today? Is pinning a few minutes of "feel good" on our chests like campaign buttons going to do anything to change our lives?

Will a temporary positive vibe, a sentiment that at this juncture can only be achieved by sticking our heads in the proverbial sand, make it easier for many of us to wrap our heads around the new paradigm shifts that are taking place in our culture?

The Seattle Post Intelligencer, midsized newspaper in Washington State, published its last print edition Tuesday, and became available only online. Its staff of 167 people shrank to 20 people. Even if half of the 167 employees were not news gatherers, how can twenty people possibly cover as many events and proceedings as before? And of the areas they have to stop reporting on, which of these areas will their community miss having information about the most? City council? School board? Sewage treatment? Public health? Social services? White collar crime? Whistleblowers?

The local Atlanta real estate scene, according to a report on a local news station, is still in the doldrums, although a realtor the reporter interviewed commented that "we're beginning to get some activity in a few areas of town. I'm seeing a few more contracts on starter homes." Starter homes? There is no real estate term I despise more. Are we still stuck in this linguistic trap that belittles the kind of home many Americans need to see as their only home - the 3 bedroom, 1 and ½ bath variety that doesn't hold your monthly budget hostage?

Retirement accounts have been hit so hard that they are half-jokingly referred to as 201(k)’s these days - but probably not by anyone over 55. Many, many people who were about to retire have no choice to keep working. So how much longer will this keep some of the millions who have been laid off from going back to work? At what point does the collective frustration of those of this generation who had the best of plans, only to see them evaporate, begin to change how younger Americans sees its future?

My own parents did not put "feeling good" anywhere near the top of the list of things we needed to be thinking about - "doing good" was a much more important barometer for them. For people like them, who went from being cotton pickers to college graduates, "feeling good" sounds like a luxury.

All of the downsizing and rightsizing that has taken place so far has been the external, corporate fueled variety. The hardest transformation that is about to take place in this country is the one between our ears. It is going to require a downsizing and rightsizing of our desires to realign them with the things that we really need to have vibrant, productive and enjoyable lives. The middle class might finally get to be a true middle class again, instead of an imitation of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. Those who inhabit society's upper stratosphere could even begin to feel a sharper, more urgent sense of responsibility to the communities from which they derive their financial success.

And hopefully, more of us will begin to teach ourselves how to feel good about the things we can control, and learn to endure the things we cannot.

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