Maybe we need a downturn

The other day on my bus into downtown SF, a down-and-out looking guy stepped on and asked if anyone could give him the dollar he was short on bus fare. Amazingly, five or six people stepped up to oblige, and it got me thinking about the economy. I’ve seen people ask for money on the bus before, but I’ve never seen five people leap to lend a hand.

Hard times can create a kind of brotherhood. The word compassion literally means to suffer together, and when we don’t have to work too hard to put ourselves in another man’s shoes, then maybe we’re more inclined to help each other out.

Economic growth is not something that can go on forever. The last hundred years of exponential growth and unrestrained consumption has taken a serious toll on the earth and left entire cultures wrecked in its wake. For our own survival on this planet, we need to curb our appetites, but the dilemma has been how to slow down consumption without throwing the economy into turmoil.

Well our hand has been forced, and maybe we have the answer: You can’t slow down consumption without hurting the economy. The economy is in turmoil and consumption is way down. Each exacerbating the other. But maybe nothing good comes without some hard work and sacrifice – concepts that are antithetical to American existence. We have indigestion, and maybe this is just the medicine we need.

We can look forward to tough times, that’s certain. The last eight years have left some fresh scabs, but it’s the last hundred years that did the real damage. Tougher times are still ahead, but maybe there’s an upside. Maybe this is a blessing in disguise.

As we endure this downturn and after we come out the other side, maybe we’ll do a better job of taking care of each other, and the planet we share.