As the U.S. economy continues to be in a recession with the unemployment rate now over 10% at an official rate of 10.2% and the underemployment rate is an official 17.5%, I find myself thinking more and more of the sentiment that one of the descriptions of true personal integrity is how you treat people that can do nothing for you.
We are all part of a reality now that many of our past business associates, friends, and family members are losing their jobs or businesses on a weekly basis.
We are watching many remain unemployed for what even a couple of years ago would have been considered an unimaginably long period of time. In addition, we have all heard of people we know having their hours cut or that have accepted a job that would have legitimately seemed woefully underemployed for them just a year ago.
I personally know two friends that are facing foreclosure and one past business associate that is facing corporate and personal bankruptcy due to the failing economy. All were successful for years in white-collar jobs and have never had a financial problem prior to 2008.
These are not people that lived way above their means, and they seem shell-shocked that it is even possible this is happening to them. These sobering observations have had me noting more fully how the people in my circle treat the severely affected. I'm asking myself what is my personal integrity in this recession. The reactions to the recession misfortune of people in my circle run the gamut.
I have some in my circle that have found the recession to be a boom for them. They still have jobs or businesses, and some are even doing better than prior to 2007. This group's talk at social gatherings is full of excitement over all the bargains out there in stocks, vacations, vacation or investment property, etc. They can't wait to tell you about the great deal they just got on the new Lexus SUV Hybrid or the picture-window sized flat screen television they just bought.
They post on Facebook how wonderful their life is going and on LinkedIn how wonderful their business is going. Or, they post how much they hate their job (which of course seems to be a recession-proof position) or the last business meeting they felt forced to endure at work. (If I see one more FB post about how much those not affected by the recession hate Mondays or can't wait for Friday to get here on Tuesday, I am going to scream.)
I am a big believer in creating and living in prosperity and wish nothing but success for all people. Yet, I notice this group seems to have not received the national internal memo that many are struggling, conspicuous consumption may not be in the best taste right now, and that some of their FB comments in general seem a bit insensitive to the times - or at least they do to me.
I have found this group in my circle to be rather self-absorbed in some ways. Were they always like this, or am I just seeing it for the first time? With this realization, I'm forced to ask myself - In my very best financial years, am I like this? (And yes, I must admit to myself, I have been insensitive myself at times to those around me.)
This group tells me, yes, they have been getting tons of networking emails and calls lately from laid-off friends, but they don't really seem to understand or emphasize much with their plight. Some may make a call or two on behalf of their closest friends, but many tell me they find these calls awkward and are tired of dealing with them.
I'm sure some in this group in general are trying to help people that can do nothing for them, but I'm not seeing a lot of that personally. I find the ones that are volunteering to help others are simply those that have always volunteered.
I have some in my circle that still have their jobs for now or are hanging on to their businesses by a thread. The majority of this group seems scared - very scared. Some in this group dominate every social conversation with how terrible everything is as misery loves company, and they feel they are next to lose their job or to fail.
Some seem stuck in fear and are just saving every penny they can to prepare for what they say they know is without a doubt coming their way. Some are preparing for what they see as their pending unemployment by applying for every job they can right now while they still have a job. They are the ones making the networking calls for their own survival and see themselves as being realistic and proactive.
They certainly are able to understand and emphasize with the recession misfortune around them personally. I'm noticing many in this group are happy to help those that are looking for employment.
They are willingly taking the "can you help me" calls from people without looking at it as an awkward call. I'm also noticing though this helpfulness extends the most to those that call not looking for what would be their own specific job title.
I'm finding a lot from this group are volunteering more at their church and other charitable foundations or volunteering for the first time. Many, but not all, seem to be doing a lot to help people that can do nothing for them.
And as I mentioned earlier, I have some in my circle that have been unemployed or underemployed for quite a while now and some that are facing the dire consequences of vanished resources.
The majoirity of this group seems to fall into one of two extremes - they seem either completely stuck and legitimately don't know what to do or where to turn, or they seem unexplainably calm with a knowing they can get through anything even foreclosure or bankruptcy if it comes to this.
This group of course genuinely understands and has empathy for those affected by the recession, for they are living the heaviest afflictions of the recession. I find most in this group have not been willing to talk about their exact circumstances openly due to pride and embarrassment.
I find the openness to admit severe hardship depends on their economic status prior to the recession's affect on them. My working class circle talk more openly about it than my middle or executive class circle. I think this is because they don't equate hardship and loss with failure as much.
Ironically, this group, at any economic status, who has the most limited financial resources and less helpful network resources now seems to be the most open to helping people that can do nothing for them.
Case in point - I have a single mother friend who went from owning her own popular Bar & Grill in the upscale Chicagoland suburb of Naperville to losing her business in 2008 - due to both the new Illinois smoking ban and the economic downturn - to being on food stamps and facing foreclosure in 2009.
Another single mother friend of mine who has been struggling with her normal 45 hour office manager work week being cut to 25 hours shared with me she would not be able to feed her kids properly except for the first friend sharing her food stamp card with her to buy groceries the last few months. This friend does not qualify for food stamps even with the reduced hours.
Without the judgment on the legality of it, I was so completely touched by this act of generosity given by one hardest hit by the recession to another that could do nothing for them.
I know the recession and our willingness to provide resources to those that need help is a touchy subject today in the U.S. If this discussion takes place in the political environment, it can be explosive with debate centering on personal responsibility and whether or not the U.S. is moving toward socialism and away from capitalism.
I am "best ideas" politically, and I do believe in personal responsibility and that America's capitalism is what made us innovative and wealthy enough to send aid to less fortunate countries throughout the world. Politics is not meant to be a part of this discussion topic for the description of personal integrity being how you treat people that can do nothing for you.
Not necessarily thinking in terms of the entire world or the entire U.S., but thinking in terms of just your own personal circle of people, how are you treating people that can do nothing for you?
This recession has made me realize there is indeed a difference between compassion and empathy. I believe everyone in my circle has compassion for the less fortunate. I believe maybe true empathy - being able to think and act from the perspective of putting yourself in someone else's circumstance - may really only be enhanced for most by having circumstances, in the example of unemployment, be real or a real possibility.
Does empathy trump compassion in how we approach taking networking calls and responding with focused intent to help those in our circle that are seeking employment? Some in my recession boom circle have told me "Well Brenda, it's just not popular right now to be doing well.".
I say, I'm thrilled for anyone that is doing well in this recession and hope enhanced empathy and sensitivity can be qualities we all carry with us out of this recession when it gets better.
Personally, my business has been affected by the recession, so my financial resources are limited right now in helping my unemployed friends. I put a lot of thought into it, and I realized what I can do to help in a meaningful way is to offer free resume writing to them.
Having an extensive executive business and marketing background and having hired a lot of people in my career, I have a knack for writing effective results and achievement highlighting resumes.
I have offered this on a FB post, and I am pleased to report I have written twelve resumes for friends and friends-of-friends that have resulted in them getting interviews they weren't getting before.
My hope is that I have lived up to having compassion and empathy along with fulfilling my own definition of personal integrity - for no other reason than that is whom I want to be for myself.