Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, adjustment: put the banking crisis behind us

Ladies and gentlemen, where are we are the path of psychological recovery after learning, not only that our country is not only flat broke, but that our prosperity in the last ten years was a house built on sand?

Denial?

Anger?

Depression?

Bargaining?

Adjustment?

Denial about the banking crisis is over

I believe we are out of denial.  Do you agree?  Not everyone understands the extent of our financial woes, or the rate that they are getting worse, but we have grasped that when we wake up in the morning, the problem will still be with us.

Anger about the banking crisis . . . still with us?

Much of the citizenry is still very angry about the financial crisis.  We are still looking for someone to blame and somebody to hurt back in return for the hurt we have suffered?

Am I right so far?

Depression . . . the politicians are depressed about the crisis?

Politicians, to a man and woman, seem depressed about the crisis.  They are busy having meetings and telephone conference calls.  But by-and-large, they are being busy.  Of course, they are busy. They are ‘shaking the tree’ or in the parlance of a domestic household, looking down the sofa for small change to pay the rent.  That doesn’t put anyone in a good mood.  But their gloom is the result of more than penny-pinching and cash flow management.

Do you think they are acting with a positive sense of the future or just getting-by?

Bargaining  . . . what does bargaining look like?

What does bargaining look like anyway?  I don’t really know.

In other countries and other crises, I have seen people protest a country’s position ‘between a rock and a hard place’ by going on ‘fasts’ (not, hunger strikes, ‘fasts’ or ‘pacts with God’).  The country didn’t move forward very much but the fasters did get very slim and they learned to get up early in the morning.  I can say that for their methods.  Whether their lives improved in other ways, I doubt.  Unsurprisingly, they did very little work.  Their electronic diaries were pristine with the exception of their prayer schedules.

The secular equivalent of keeping one’s head down can be just as dangerous, by-the-way.   It normally involves being very busy doing-the-boss’-bidding while he or she sits out of harm’s way- a bit as Carne Ross described in talk at LSE this week on life as British diplomat.

Does satire play the role of bargaining?  Does laughing about ‘their idiocy’ without taking action not perform the same function of reducing emotional concerns without moving forward?  Resignation rather than adjustment which is really a form of bargaining?  If I laugh, then it will be alright?

Is writing this post a form of bargaining?  I guess it is.  I am being an observer of ‘them’.

Adjustment . . . is it possible?  Can we just adjust and get on with it?

If I don’t really understand bargaining (as much because we think this stage of recovery is a delaying tactic rather than useful), I do know what adjustment is going to mean.

Adjustment is accepting that we were all part of the mess and are all part of the mess.

Adjustment rests on a foundation of “who we are”.  Who are we loyal to?  Who is ‘me and mine’?  Until we really feel solidarity with each other and are willingly to form a new social compact based on that solidarity, then we aren’t going anywhere fast.  We will ‘lurching from church to school’.  I’ve no idea where the expression came from but it conveys the idea.

Our solutions will be in direct proportion to our solidarity.  While we hate each other, our solutions will be correspondingly mean and inadequate.

Getting to adjustment in a country that is in trouble

Getting to ‘adjustment’ when a country is severe trouble is a tough one.  The psychological key is our own good temper, or whatever kernel of good temper that we can find.

When we identify what we believe is good in Britain, when we can point to what is, rather than to what we want to be (usually through someone else’s efforts); until we believe the something is sufficiently good that we are willing to get out of bed to work on it, whether or not anyone else is working on it, we – I mean you, I mean me – are not going anywhere very fast.

The questions, to me, are three fold:

  • What is, right now, is so good that it fills me with awe?
  • What is, right now, that I can bounce out of bed to look after and nurture?
  • What am I willing to do right now, whether or not you support me or not, but which can include you if you want to be included?

Keeping my good temper intact

So here I am writing a post ‘about’ Britain – and in a way about what is wrong with Britain. Here I am apparently procrastinating and avoiding doing some work which has shards of pleasure and the sharp edges of tedium.

Am I being a hypocrite?  Or am I saying that I like to process the news and know what I think and feel?  Am I saying that I like to read between the lines and see the big events that might be affecting us all (the government is looking for small change down the sofa)?  Am I saying that I like to use the heuristics I have gathered over the years to think economically?  Am I saying that I think people like Carne Ross (apostate diplomat) are right?  Change in UK will not start in Whitehall. It will start at street-level with small matters, with whatever we care about executed, not an angry, contested manner (even when that is concealed under do-goodery), but in a respectful, collaborative manner that demonstrates democracy in the minute detail?  Am I saying that I like Web2.0 (blogs etc) because they minimally give me a neat place to store my thoughts and writings and a place where others can read them if they choose?

And having cleared my mind, I can get back to work, because work is like hoovering the carpet – it’s not much fun but the results are pleasant.

And for every moment I spend doing work that matters, I might be building a foundation for future solidarity.  And from there we might find solutions to build a Britain fit for the next 50 years.

So here ends my thoughts on where we are psychologically in making sense of the financial crisis using the well known heuristic of the grief cycle – denial/not us,anger/blame, depression/loss of direction, bargaining/magical thinking, action/affection.  The kernel of your good temper is Britain’s future.

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Asking questions about life after the recession

Celebs Face_0320 by EDWW day_dae (esteemedhelga) via Flickr5 stages of grief and the recession

By now, everyone has registered that we are in a severe recession.  We have gone through denial, and we have gone through anger. I wonder, though, whether we have arrived at acceptance and action or whether we are currently going through bargaining, and when that fails, have yet to go through depression.

What do I mean?  At the moment, we are still quarreling over the cuts to make. No. We are still quarreling over whether to make cuts.  This is not action. This is bargaining.  We are still hoping to propitiate the gods.

We flood the Gulf of Mexico with oil and we are surprised when ace negotiator, Barack Obama gives us a bill larger than the additional taxes we need to pay to clear up the credit crunch.  We definitely aren’t that far along, are we?

Anticipating life after the recession

That doesn’t stop me trying to anticipate the end game, though.  It struck me today that the essence of much of our debates is a rather abstract question:  what will be the relative roles of our economic and social lives?

Many pundits think our economic lives will become marginal, not because we will be poor but because we simply don’t have to work so hard to meet our basic needs.  (I can hear you tell me to talk for myself!)

But the structure of economic life is the central question we face and within that question is the question of the relative roles of economic and social lives.

Where will work fit into our lives after the recession?

Within this question is the role that economic activity plays in a healthy existence.  We like to work.  We may not always like the conditions of our employment or or relative status, but we like to work.

Poet David Whyte thinks our character is tempered by the fires of work.  We express ourselves through economic exchanges.  We grow through economic exchanges.

Maybe this question should be the starting point of imagining our radically different collective futures.  What kind of economic interchanges do we believe are worth pursuing?

Are we done ‘bargaining’ about the financial crisis? I wish, but I don’t think so.

Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, action & the financial crisis

This time last year we were definitely in the first of the five stages of grief.  Denial: we couldn’t quite believe that the bankers had blown a hole below our a waterline.

A year later, economists at least, have moved on.

The Governor of the Bank of England said

The sheer scale of support to the banking sector is breathtaking. In the UK, in the form of direct or guaranteed loans and equity investment, it is not far short of a trillion (that is, one thousand billion) pounds, close to two-thirds of the annual output of the entire economy.

To paraphrase a great wartime leader, never in the field of financial endeavour has so much money been owed by so few to so many. And, one might add, so far with little real reform.” (Governor of the Bank of England, in a speech, 20 October, 2009. )

Yes.  One trillion pounds sterling, 66% of the UK’s annual GDP of 1,4 trillion pounds has been put aside to mend the hole, lest it sinks the entire ship of state.

I don’t think the man and woman in the street quite grasps the size of the hole.  If they did, they would have stormed thelife-boats.

Professional economist are beginning to look at alternatives

The economists are beginning to debate seriously though.

Do we cut back hard to pay down our national debt – for which you and I must read – government debt?  Should the government stop spending like we might when we’ve just had an overseas holiday and put too much on the credit card?  Cut out all the luxuries till we have paid off our excesses?

Or do we need Keynesian economics to get out of this?  That is, should we spend money from the center to create a ripple effect?  For example, should the government spends 100 pounds on a new school, who pays the builder who pays the suppliers and who pays their suppliers who pay the supermarkets and who ultimately pays me.  All of us take part and we all pay tax and don’t claim benefits?

Ann Pettifor’s talk on Keynesian economics is 20 pages long.  If you are not an economist, put aside a couple of hours to get through it. It is worth the time.  First, it is clearly written.  You will understand the issues. Second, it is well written. It is nice to know that someone in England can still write a great speech (though she appears to live and work out of the States now).

Where are economists on the grief cycle?

So the economists are beginning to look at the facts.  What stage of grief are they in?  We need to know this so that we have a sense of how long the dilly-dallying will go on.

  • None are really proposing action.  The actions of others, yes, but not their own.  But they are along the track.  I would say the independent economists are around the bargaining stage – if we do this, it will be alright!
  • The Governor of the Bank of England, though admirably witty, seems to be further along around the depression stage. I do hate writing that.  It feels like tempting fate.  It’s relevance is this. It’s important to have a sense of when we will move collectively out of the state of shock and deliberation.  And it is important for younger psychologists reading this to store away a sense of how long community’s take to recover psychologically from extreme shocks so they are better able to lead when shocks happen in the future as they surely will.

We are gathering ourselves for action

We are still waiting for the leaders whose plans are not contingent.  We are still waiting for the leaders who say this is what I am going to do. This is what I am wholly committed to doing ~ so much so that I don’t have to say I am committed.  You see it in my eyes. You see it in my focused attention.  You see it in my invitation to join me.

We have a way to go.

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From anger to effective action

Anger: Stage Two of the Banking Crisis

Today, senior bankers fronted up to a Select Committee to make their apologies.  Shortly afterward, BBC ran a chat show and asked the public whether apologies were enough.  The public had a lot to say and the BBC presenter was clearly testing the depth of our anger.

Anger is Stage Two in the FIVE stage process of receiving bad news: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So what does acceptance look like and how do we get there?

David Whyte, corporate poet, tells a good story that helps us understand the beginning and end of the five stage process, what we have to do to move from start to finish,  and why it is so difficult to take the first steps.

Whyte was trekking in Nepal.  He had left his friends and came, alone, on a ravine with a rope bridge in poor state of repair.  He was horrified.  It was too dangerous to use the bridge and too late to turn back and rejoin his companions.

So many situations are similar. We are stuck. It is too dangerous to do what we want to do and we cannot immediately see a way out of our predicament.  We are overcome by a mix of frustration, anxiety, shame and fear, and are in Stage One and Stage Two.  We are ‘all emotion’, and reasonably so.  After all, we are in trouble.

But in that funk, we cannot think clearly and cannot find a way out of our dilemma.

Tomorrow, I’ll break the situation into psychological terms and point out what we have to do if we are ever to move on.

Come with me!