Sullivan’s writing has recently appeared in a number of
webzines and magazines, including Bad Idea Magazine (UK),
Eleventh Transmission (CAN), The Short Humour Site
(UK), Backhand Stories, and The Externalist.
He was a finalist at the 2008 Pacific Northwest Writers Association
contest for his memoir Life In The Slow Lane, which
recounts a hair-raising summer spent teaching driver's education.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
man behind the counter scans my Nicorette and raises his eyebrows.
He chuckles, looks up at me with bemusement, and says “$29.99,
that is expensive.”
if I didn’t know this.
back at the gnomish clerk, a balding man with thin hair that
races away from the base of skull as if he’s standing
inside a wind tunnel. As a longtime user I get this type of
critical comment frequently and I’m ready with a reply.
than a lung transplant and chemo,” I say, “just
putting aside the shame and thinking long-term here.”
man takes my card and slides it through the slot. I glance down
at his shirt and see the small badge: JERRY—CUSTOMER SERVICE
IN TRAINING. It seems that the training program is outdated,
failing to mention that customers are abandoning retail en masse
and should be retained at any cost. Maybe the program’s
hands me my gum, but he isn’t done with me yet. He puts
his palms on the counter, leans forward, and says, “You
just need to get some willpower.” I stare back at the
pharmacy’s long shot for Employee-Of-The-Month while he
beams, proud of his insight. I feel like Luke Skywalker taking
advice from Yoda, the minor difference being that Luke wanted
it. I’m an inch from making a childish comment I’ll
instantly regret, but I hold back. I know what’s happening
here. This stranger is handing out wisdom not to help me but
to boost his own self-esteem.
* * * * * * *
is this important? Why should anyone care about this silly exchange?
For this reason: the need to boost self-esteem is the primary
force behind the economic turmoil that is affecting us all.
The day to day mechanics of the financial crises involve a messy
jumble of faulty mortgages, CDOs (collateralized debt obligations)
and the like not working as planned (if there ever was a plan),
but the larger question to ask is: What’s behind that?
What drives one person to risk everything on a sketchy loan
and a second person to risk the health of their employer by
packaging that loan? What caused ordinary people to play a game
of American Roulette?
sad reality on Wall Street is that the majority of people working
there gain their self-esteem from money. More money and a bigger
bonus translate into greater self-esteem and vice versa. Hence,
the never-ending drive for more that is guaranteed to end badly.
Why else would someone earning one million dollars this year
need twice that the next year and do anything to get
it? On the other end of the spectrum, why would a first-time
buyer forego a reasonable house or car for a McMansion and an
SUV whose loans put them on the edge of financial collapse?
More house and more car translates into more self-esteem.
can be found everywhere, surging through the population like
an epidemic. Why would a country with huge, looming financial
demands use its military to invade a third world desert backwater,
acting like some fifth-year senior bullying the smallest freshman
on the playground? For a confused leader with a dismal track
record and mounting disapproval, kicking ass builds self-esteem,
pure and simple. The people cheering him on like the other kids
on the playground get the same boost as well.
end result of everyone trying to enhance his self-esteem simultaneously
through asset acquisition is the mess we see today. Companies
collapse. Neighbourhoods empty out. Marriages fail. At the beginning
the players in a communal entity (household, company, nation
etc.) start losing focus on the health of that entity, ignoring
the shared responsibilities needed to make it function. For
a while the group stumbles along, frazzled and fracturing, picking
up steam as individuals turn toward building their self-worth.
At the critical point a plague breaks out. Middle-school teachers
start buying five homes while bankers contemplate building derivatives
off a pool of library fines. The system gets overwhelmed as
almost everyone joins in. While most of the public anger gets
directed at the elites (CEOs and such), the blame is everywhere,
at all levels of society. Bankers, traders, mortgage lenders,
homebuilders, electricians, and consumers crash into each other
like feedlot animals stampeding toward a trough of self-esteem
feed. Then the feed disappears and the game shuts down with
everyone scratching his head and wondering what happened.
the economic system we have, people will always need money for
food, housing, and other necessities, but their most urgent
need now is for something entirely different. They need to find
a way to value themselves that doesn’t involve money and
assets as the primary focus. A return to finding worth through
being good at something regardless of economic reward would
be a start. Pride in a job well done is an asset that never
loses its value or ends up being overpriced when everyone jumps
on board. Perhaps one day it will be hip to be un-wealthy, at
which point we might discover we’re feeling good about