by | Oct 12, 2008 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

As the financial markets tumble and America stands on the brink of a depression, people want to know how on Earth we can fix this.

I know the answer. But you may not like it.

We’re gonna have to be nicer to each other.

Yep. That’s what I said. Nicer to each other. And before you dismiss this as simplistic drivel, ask yourself a question: If it’s so simple, how come we haven’t done it yet?

Then ask yourself: What’s the biggest difference between America now and America during the Depression?

The difference is people back then were willing to sacrifice, to do without, to cobble through the hard times and pull together because they believed in the future and they believed in their country.

We need to do the same.

Which means a change in the status quo. A change in our blame-someone-else mentality. A change in the hate-mongering that goes on from right to left and left to right in the news media, in politics, in town halls, in barbershops.

If we’re going to weather this mess, if we’re going to avert total financial meltdown, if we’re ever really going to see brighter days ahead, then here’s what we’ll have to do:

Our national to-do list

We’ll have to stop blaming the poor for buying houses they couldn’t afford.

We’ll have to stop blaming the rich because they wanted more money.

We’ll have to stop screaming at Democrats, “You created this problem.”

We’ll have to stop screaming at Republicans, “You’re the reason this happened.”

We’ll have to help the downtrodden, because without our help they may not make it.

We’ll have to look out for the elderly, because if illness comes, they can’t wait until the markets rebound.

We’ll have to teach our kids that tough times don’t last, but tough people do.

We’ll have to help our neighbor find a job, because next thing you know, it could be us asking for work.

We’ll have to take an interest in our community, because feeling part of something may be the only way we climb out of this.

We’ll have to get behind the new president, whoever he may be, because a country as divided as this one will never be able to climb out of the muck.

We’ll have to find a laugh, together, in cutting back to one car, or taking a local vacation, or living without computer upgrades, because if we can’t share a laugh over this whole mess, we’ll just want to cry.

Worst of times, best of people

The well-to-do will have to accept that poor people are not stupid or second class – former high-flying executives are now out in the street, too – and those living paycheck-to-paycheck are not here to be taken advantage of.

The less well-off will have to accept that wealth is earned, it is not a right, it is not something you’re supposed to have just because people on television have it. You save, you sacrifice, you avoid debt – those are qualities of admirable folks, not suckers.

The comfortable must know that if they don’t help those in need, the needy may be pushed to the brink.

The needy must believe that, no matter what, you don’t lose your soul over this, you don’t steal, you don’t rob, you don’t break the law for money.

These are depressing times, awful times. But they also can be times of opportunity. How many of us know a parent or grandparent who claims the greatest lessons they learned came from the Depression? How many of them harken back to that as a time when we realized what was really important, and we all pulled together?

Our turn at that may be coming. If so, dial down your anger. Help someone out. Appreciate the life you have, knowing it could be worse. And slowly, surprisingly, this rainstorm may actually bring us closer together.

I don’t know if we’re strong enough. But I know how it begins. Take a small step. Be nicer to one another. Stop seeing the next guy as your enemy, and start seeing him as your friend, a friend in need, a countryman indeed.


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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