eThoughts : Psychology and the Economy: A Psychological Stimulus Package?

Recently I had a discussion with a woman who has a client—an author—interested in discussing, via the radio, the rise of unemployment during this economic crisis. My input was that unsought unemployment was the psychological equivalent of abandonment and associated with feelings of suffering, scarcity, and helplessness. This is especially true of midlife humans in a career and with families. And it seems to really be true for males in that position.

One of the worst things that can happen to people is to feel like worthless, non-contributors, with no control of their resources. And that feeling is one which will plague any economic recovery. Giveaways—as in the economic “bailout”—may help people economically, but not necessarily psychologically. Ask any economist nowadays and they’ll agree that economics is not just about numbers, but much about psychology and the resulting behavior.

Think about the impact of the Great Depression on an entire generation (and more) of people. Yes, the nation recovered economically, but the impact of abandonment, suffering, and scarcity lasted long after the recovery.

Maybe, we don’t need to just stimulate the economy, we need to stimulate people.

The recent presidential election was accompanied by widespread hope, and the possibility for positive change was in the air. But hope can be rather ephemeral. We need concrete changes. And we need changes that our psychology can sink its teeth into. We may be pack animals, but I think our days of having a pack leader as the great protector have to be over if we’re going to have that concrete footing. Our society—all societies I think—are beset by the notion of saviors. The psychology of this is that the vast majority of individuals are simply not capable, it takes buildings full of written laws and buildings full of lawyers and buildings full of religious texts and learned people of God and it takes that rare individual leader—a Gandhi, a King, a Prophet of some kind or another—to lead us to the promised land.

All of this has the psychological effect of being at the mercy of one person, one particular or another. Leaders die, laws, both secular and religious, are broken and hope can surge up or down like the stock market.

I think the psychological stimulus we need is education—and more than what is presently in place. We don’t need an education plan that only reaps benefits twelve, fifteen, or twenty years down the road. We need one with immediate benefits. We need to learn to speak clearly and to the moment and act accordingly. We need to stop being offended. We need to stop feeling entitled. We need to stop waiting for salvation to arrive.

In short, we need to talk to each other. We need to listen to each other. And if we’re not getting it, we need to pay attention so that we can. And no one is less or more because of what they get or don’t get. Children are not less. Women are not. Men are not. The poor are not. The ones without guns are not. What this country was founded upon needs to be practiced everyday and in every way—we have inalienable rights, all of us. We have not yet granted that to all people, despite the Hallmark rhetoric. We look for standing, for position, for supremacy. That’s simply a King-of-the-Hill game, one in which the position is guaranteed to be lost, leaving us to think legacy. But that’s a legacy of standing as well.

The psychological stimulus we need is to do what the country was founded upon: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty and justice for all. Our founding fathers did some magnificent thinking and certainly they and their progeny have been fighting for those ideals. But the good fight is not a war, it is the actualization of the behaviors that can rise from those thoughts. These behaviors remain rare, born so slowly in so few cases that the entire notion of paradise on earth comes across as a fairy tale.

Paradise is not a fairy tale. It is real and we can immediately help each other and ourselves by stimulating the behaviors that manifest those inalienable rights that create such a paradise.

Pretty vague? Okay, let’s start by offering help instead of asking each other or some great entity, whether government or religion or God, for help (think JFK’s inaugural address). And in that asking, let the rule, the education, be to not trespass, to cause no harm. This particular education, this particular behavior, may begin with a negative—what not to do—but when we flounder and cannot find our way, we can clarify our heading by knowing what we don’t want to do. And, in case any of us haven’t figured it out yet, we are not finding our way. In fact, we appear to be quite lost.

If we can learn to offer instead of just consuming, we change the heading from a consumer-driven economic base to an offer-our-stewardship and cause-no-trespass psychological base. This is a stimulus not based on hope or leaders or the labyrinth of secular or religious laws, but one based on each other and our stewardship. We create a proactive state—no waiting for checks to arrive or something or else to save us. We do it for each other, which is also doing it for ourselves. It will not be easy as we’ll have to shift from worrying about being trespassed upon to worrying about trespassing against, but that shift in the psychology and behavior of interpersonal interaction is huge.

The proposed economic stimulus package is necessary on one level, the stimulus to our psychological state is mandatory on every level. If we can elevate our psychology, and we certainly can, I’ll bet those inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness becomes more accessible and not as subject to the economic rise and fall of greed and gathering, haves and have-nots. After all, a psychology that rests on the very basis of universal blessedness and grace is not so easily derailed.

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