No light at the end of the financial crisis tunnel?

Where is the end of the tunnel?

At odd times in our lives, someone wise captures our dilemma in a single sentence.  I hope he won’t mind, but almost a decade ago in Zimbabwe, at a time when other people were saying, “It is darkest before the dawn”, the UN Representative said to me, “You feel right now that you are in dark tunnel and you cannot see the light at the end.  But you will see it eventually.”

I think many people in western countries feel this way.  Yet they won’t vocalize their thoughts.  I think keeping nervous thoughts looked away is a mistake.  Our stress levels and we come no closer to a solution.

Getting our thoughts in order

Speaking up, though, often feels negative.  Worse, in competitive masculine societies, which  describes most English-speaking societies, when you describe what is not working for you, you look like a loser.  And losers definitely come last.  People don’t want to hang out with you in case losing rubs off.

Psychologically, though, it is important to express your fears.  If we don’t, they will build up until they govern our lives.  Then we start to make very unwise decisions.  We will find yourself bandying together with people whose only goal is to complain.  Losing does become a way of life.

When we express our fears, we also have an opportunity to list what goes well.  Our objective is not to ignore what goes badly  It is to take stock of what tools we have in our tool kit so we get some leverage on the problem.

My bad day

Let me give you an example. Yesterday, I got pins and needles working at my desk.  To get some circulation going, I went downstairs.   Despite moving very carefully, I put my numb foot down carelessly, fortunately on the last stair, and twisted it badly.  I put out my other arm spontaneously to steady myself and resprained an already sprained-shoulder.  The combined pain made my head spin.  I thought I might faint.

Effectively, my day was finished. I got back to my desk and with visions of a black-and-blue ankle, looked up how to treat a sprain: RICE.  Rest, ice, compression, elevation.  And do it straight away.

Fortunately I had a pack of frozen peas in the freezer.   My day then became a day of trying to keep ice on my foot (I never did figure out how to combine ice, pressure and height), canceling appointments, and trying to work on my lap.

To make matters worse, my project for the day was design.  If there was ever a task that I find fiddly and annoying, its graphics.  It beats tax returns and hoovering by a long margin.  There, even writing that makes me feel better.

I persevered, despite my aches and pains, until close to midnight with triumph, I produced something that was not disgusting but that needs redoing because the proportions are long.

See how long this story of woe is?  I really ended my Wednesday feeling life was dull and unpleasant.  I made myself exercise while I ran a clean up on my computer.  Then at midnight, I made myself fill out a gratitude diary.  What was good to say? Yup, I had stopped my ankle swelling. It ached and it was slightly swollen but it was not a black-and-blue mess.  I had made progress on a task I find very hard.  I had stopped at home and had salads for lunch and supper.

I surprised myself reevaluating my relatively ’empty’ day as better than I thought. But I resisted calling it positive.  That is the point, isn’t it?  I resisted noticing the positive because I was so shocked by the negative.  Sometimes we want to sulk.

Learning from countries in trouble

Getting a grip, I used some magic Anti-Flamme, available only in New Zealand, on both my ankle and shoulder, curled up in a ball which I hoped would tax neither foot nor shoulder.  Then I put on BBC World Service to listen to The Last Resort, a novel about happenings in my birth country, and surprisingly good, though close to the bone.

The author of The Last Resort, is taking the view that it is darkest before the dawn, and for once, a book about Africa is not whincingly sanctimonious.

Listening to the lives of people who are in a very dark place but who go on anyway, reaching out, and trying to be decent in ways they understand,  we should know that sometimes we will not be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  But we are still better calling out to others who are there with us, and taking an inventory of what we have for our emotional and physical sustenance.  We don’t know there is a way out.  But if we worry about that instead of coping with the present, we will not get out.  Our salvation is what is around us.

As for Westerners who are burying their fears.  Don’t.  I know a fair bit about national economics.  I make it my business to follow the pundits.  We are up shit-creek.  No doubt about it.  But we also have

  • The buffer of a lot of fat
  • Deep confidence
  • High aspirations

The nuclear deal crafted by Obama is important.  We are working together to make the world safer.  Scientists are making fundamental discoveries almost daily.  We have a new generation coming through.   The internet works so well that it is unremarkable now to interact with people world wide on a daily basis.

In our unspoken discomfort with a financial crisis of our own making, we fall into three traps

  • We leave our own heads in a mess
  • We “diss” the people who are taking the brunt of the crisis – the unemployed, the poor and the dispossessed
  • We miss the opportunities we should be working on

How to survive the dark tunnel of the financial crisis

If you are surrounded by people talking nonsense about darkness and tunnels, then I say accept the reality.  We are in a dark place and we cannot see the end.

And keep a daily gratitude diary to keep your emotional state in balance with reality, to honor who and what bring value to your life, and to remind yourself of what does work.

I can walk on my foot today.  Blast, though, another day of graphics.

3 steps for citizen leadership during the financial crisis

Economic reports for the week

The news of the week is the growing fear of sovereign default in Mediterranean countries and the possibility of a double dip recession.  I spent the morning reading up the economic commentaries and turning them into plain English.  As far as I understand what I read, our way of life is in supreme danger of falling apart.

We cannot afford to carry on the way we are.  We don’t have the money.  And the price of borrowing is likely to go up unless we can show clearly how we will pay back what we want to borrow.

The politicians are in a conundrum.  They want to defend Britain’s triple AAA rating.   And to do that they must achieve two goals.

#1  They must show on paper that we can pay back the money we borrow.

#2 They must show money-lenders that the people are behind them and won’t erupt in open revolt.

We need a plan on paper but it matters naught if we do not stand together. It matters naught if we are each trying to position ourselves to win out during the inevitable decline. The money-lenders are watching us.  Our very division will be our downfall.

Finding the will to stand together

So as ever, the issue is neither financial nor economic.  It is social & political.  How can we find the will to stand together?  How can we keep our heads when others are losing theirs?  How can we develop the collective trust to work out how to get through the next ten years?

Positive psychology in hard times

This is just the kind of problem that positive psychology deals with.

We want to know how the ordinary person, you and me, can exercise personal leadership when we don’t have confidence that formal leaders will exercise the leadership we need.   We want to know how to act sensibily when we really have no idea how things will work out.  We certainly want to act in the common good without being totally irresponsible about our own futures and the futures of our families.

3 steps for citizen leadership during the financial crisis

I’ve tried to distill the advice of positive psychologists into three steps.  What do you think?

#1  Keep our eye on people we respect.  Fill our minds with what does work and not with what doesn’t.

#2  Tell the stories of what does work.  Bring the best of the past with us.

#3  Layout out the things we do understand so that other people can understand the issues.  And help others who do not have the skill to layout knowledge in their area.

Is this the way to live positively in times which seem to call out the negative, conniving and complacent?  Is this the foundation of citizen leadership?

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4 big reasons why we initally find positive psychology puzzling

At first, I was suspicious about positive psychology

I came to positive psychology some 10 years ago and like many people, I was deeply suspicious. Life is not about happiness, I thought. Life is about effectiveness. Life is about dealing with reality.

I still think that is what life is all about but I have also changed my “mental model” of happiness

Many people encountering positive psychology and happiness for the first time feel the same suspicious. And they write columns in newspapers and the speak on radio and TV about why focusing on happiness is wrong-headed.

A straight-forward summary of the puzzle of positive psychology

Gaye Prior writing from Zimbabwe, commented the post I wrote yesterday on poiesis and auto-poiesis and has captured the debates very clearly.

I realise that you write often of happiness and I wonder how you define what happiness is? It seems to me that many people might describe happiness as pleasure, which to me is more of an ephemeral thing and not happiness in the least. Pleasure does not give life meaning and purpose and love. These are more important to me than passing enjoyment and survive even in the face of tragedy, horror, awfulness and loss.

All over the web people write about happiness and often it sees to me, living here, to be more about pleasure than purpose. I know your blog is more about work and how positive psychology pertains to that and that you may have already done this and I missed it before I found you blog. Perhaps you could just [give] me the reference?

4 puzzles of positive psychology

I’ll answer her query at four levels

#1 The contribution of pleasure, engagement and meaning to well-being.

#2  Happiness at difficult times and in difficult places.

#3  The ‘maths’ of happiness and why positive psychologists agree that much of enjoyment is “passing”.

#4  How conventional psychology is a ‘straw man’.

I’ll leave this here for today and summarize each of the issues in a separate post.

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Will you look back in wonder? Or are you sleepwalking through an institutionalized life?

Is your life institutionalized?

Some many of us are institutionalized.  We live our lives as if we are on a long distance flight.  I am travelling from Heathrow to Auckland via LA.  My, doesn’t that feel good.  I am going somewhere you want to go, on a route you would like to follow.

But that isn’t life.  That is sitting in a sardine can for awfully long time doing what we are told.

In real life, we set out, much like Dick Whittington and his cat.  We are going to London.  We don’t have a map.  In truth, we aren’t really sure that London exists.  But we know we are going.

How do you cope with the muddled narrative of an open ended adventure?

Because we are going, but are quite sure where and how, when people ask us what we are doing, we sound muddled.   During the journey, we know what we have just left and what we have just seen.  We know the obstacles that face us right now and that might bring our entire project to an end.  People expect to hear our destination and our route.  Without an institutionalized storyline, we sound disjointed!

If our story is clear, it is yesterday’s action!

It is only at the end of the journey that we can tell the whole tale and give it a beginning, middle and an end.

I am still tidying this blog and re-sorting posts I wrote as much as two yeas’ ago.  Each post has been about something I did during that day, or read, or thought.

As a I look back, I am amazed.  Did I really get involved in that and did we think that clearly?   It seems so.

And example of looking back in wonder

Here is a post from over 18 months ago in the aftermath of the March 2008 election when Zimbabweans around the world were in a hiatus without widely accepted election results.   We were writing to the late President Mwanawasa of our neighbours, Zambia, who was chairman of SADC at the time.  SADC is the southern African equivalent of the G20.

  • We were involved.
  • We were imaginative.
  • We were positive.

Beat that can you?  I am impressed with us. This is a fantastic case study of positive psychology of collection action in dire times.

But note at the time, this post got hardly any attention.  Yet, what we were doing was quite revolutionary at so many levels.  Real life is muddled.  Real life is unpracticed.

When it is smooth, when it is definite, it is not real life.  It is just the unthinking sleepwalking of institutional existence.