Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Never apologize for showing feeling. When you do, you apologize for the truth. – Benjamin Disrael

Category: Social Issues

How to stop bad news from feeding on itself

Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles

When economic bad news piles on as it has since 2007, end of times feels certain. The truth is however, economies cycle. What falls off the cliff creeps back and in the process, we gain insights and wisdom.  So stay hopeful.  Happy days will be here again.

Doom and gloom popular programming

Apocalyptic gloom has become highly marketable. Shows like Doomsday Preppers andDoomsday Bunkers have added their names to the reality TV roster. Website Shtfplan.com offers visitors this friendly tagline: When it hits the fan, don’t say we didn’t warn you.  

The popular Left Behind series, first introduced through novels then with a series of movies, offers the Rapture end of times warning. As the presidential campaign approached Dinesh D’Souza rolled out his movie 2016: Obama’s America, as an omen to voters. Obama’s mission were you to accept him as President, D’Souza claimed, is to even the global playing field and in doing so, deflate our nation’s superpower influence.

“He (Obama) wants Americans to have less so the rest of the world can have more.” D’Souza tells Piers Morgan, “He wants America to have less power so that other countries can come up in the world. He’d like to see a multi-polar world in which America is not the sole super power.” (Piers Morgan Tonight. August 12, 2012).

So, take heart. If the Rapture doesn’t swallow you up, ready yourself for economic and societal collapse, war, pandemics, geomagnetic reversal, the electromagnetic pulse, terrorist acts, nuclear incidents and fuel shortages.

Feel better yet or are have you curled into a fetal ball of “Why bother?”

Essentially the gray skies are going to clear up message of what’s going right in the world has the distinct disadvantage of grabbing less air time and social media stir. What’s going right in your daily existence has the mundane quality of just sitting flat and unnoticeable. Good news just is.

Bad news however, irritates and buzzes; it jars our eyes and ears awake with adrenaline and fear.

I will say however, anyone with an ounce of sensitivity wouldn’t expect citizens terrified about where their next mortgage payment, health care coverage or meal will come from to be Pollyanna about the nation’s state of economic affairs. There is however, something to be said for acknowledging that economies (and politicians) cycle.  Moreover, with each economic crisis our nation gains new knowledge about where things went terribly, terribly, wrong and more importantly, where things went incredibly right.

Crash psychology

“For the past 15 years, home-price changes and sales volumes have either been boosted by a bubble mentality or crushed by crash psychology,” said David Stiff, Fiserv’s chief economist in a March 2013 Orlando Sentinel online article. 

The term “crash psychology” struck me.

I assume it has something to do with what Jim Taylor refers to in his July 2012 Psychology Today.com article as herd behavior, the bandwagon effect and recency (paying more attention to latest data than putting market conditions into long term perspective) and loss aversion (an inclination to avoid losses rather than produce profits).

“This is it, the big one,” Sanford of the old sitcom Sanford and Son grumbled before he grabbed his heart for the nth time.

Just last night I heard someone say to a friend who doesn’t happen to share her political view, “Yeah well, good luck. See if you have any money left in the next few years.” As she said this another woman smirked and nodded emphatically across the table.

In my experience naysayers don’t need a crushing presidential election to feel the world is going to pot. Naysayers are universally bi-partisan yet unilaterally pessimistic. They see the world changes as an eventual avalanche and that the latest election out of their favor is simply speeding up our demise.

But, how many false alarms before we decide the Great Depression isn’t coming, again?

Not that I want to downplay or arrogantly dismiss the harsh economic blows affecting millions. The reality is, we have had plenty of fuel to create real fear and economic end of times worry. People are hurting and cheerful mantras won’t hold off creditors. But, previous generations have been hit by recessions and generations to come will as well.

Since December 2007 our economy and global reputation has been beaten up. Businesses scaled back dramatically. Markets crashed to record lows. Real estate dumped. Housing starts halted. School budgets were slashed. Unemployment skyrocketed and remains high in many areas. Gas prices are headed towards Europe’s. Entire countries are being downgraded. Healthcare costs are now a primary cause for personal and small business financial ruin. And, one of the United State’s historical industrial strongholds, the auto industry, is limping along.

For an added kick to our lagging morale, we watched our government save Wall Street (which I was all for given the potential fall-out). The sub-prime mortgage mess was a house of cards with multiple players including overzealous lenders and consumers, borrowers confused by loan fine print and families just trying to tread water. But in the end, throwing a life raft to the Too Big to Fail market makers who knew better than to invest in deep murky waters — hurt.

Pile on this much economic instability in a short time span and indeed, the world can feel apocalyptic.

Negative economic warnings hide good news

Like the hot issue climate change, while the frequency of out-of-range weather patterns areabsolutely influenced by human behavior, it’s also a product of cyclical weather changes. So too, massive changes to our economy and worldwide standing may seem sudden and cataclysmic, but they occur over time and courtesy of multiple administrations’ policies.

Yet, time and time again our nation returns from recessionary slumps and economic turmoil armed with new knowledge. We’re painfully forced, as we’ve seen with the recent budget crisis in Congress, to adapt, create new or compromise, unless however, you believe we’re destined to repeat our past.

While I do believe in cyclical human and earth behavior, I also believe we’re destined to make new mistakes, not old ones. We evolve.

It’s hard to believe we’re actually advanced beings given Snookie, Jerry Springer, Dance Momsand Tosh O. But indeed, humans have progressed from our early knuckle dragging days.

And, with every crisis we’re forced to re-visit and re-balance. Consider the gas shortage, savings and loan crisis, Enron, the Exxon Valdez, over lending, over spending, over reliance on oil, over fishing, over eating. Too much regulation and we pull back. Too little, we add oversight.

Optimistic outlook in economy

Take a look at our economic indicators (Kiplinger economic outlook). They reveal policy ripple effects and red flags long, long in the making, arrived tipping points, but not eventual collapse or the Great Depression.

Take a look at these positive economic signs:

  • GDP crept ahead at a snail-like 0.1-percent pace in last year’s closing quarter, but at least it didn’t contract, as initial estimates had shown.
  • There is still no reason to look for an early end to the lengthy period of extremely low interest rates.
  • Inflation will edge up a bit this year, but not to troublesome heights.
  • On the positive side, and despite a bump upward at the start of the year, core inflation, which excludes food and energy costs, will see only muted increases.
  • Spending by businesses this quarter gets the benefit of renewed tax breaks for new or leased equipment. The recent spike in gasoline prices has run its course.
  • Crude oil prices will take a breather.
  • But expect overall retail sales to climb about 5% this year
  • Look for the trade deficit to widen by 2% in 2013, presenting a slight headwind to U.S. economic growth
  • Export growth will be held in check by recession in Europe and moderate growth in China.
  • We expect imports to increase about 5% for the year, with most of the growth coming in the second half.
  • Gains in the housing market will solidify this year.
  • Overall, we anticipate sales of existing homes to climb about 7.5%

Granted I cherry picked, which is exactly my point. Look for positive signs. Become aware of the negative only to the degree it informs key decisions about your life.  For example, it’s useful to know which industries are cycling, dying and expanding. And, it’s good to know that every financial and investment guru can be dead wrong — or dead right.

Pick your point of view.

In June 2011 James Altucher wrote in the Wall Street Journal that an impressive rise in the stock market was coming…”The market fell like a brick on Wednesday. People can’t handle any piece of bad news without saying ‘this is the big one.’ But it’s not going to happen. Even God took one day to rest. The market every now and then needs a day or two to rest. Maybe even more than a day or two. But over the next 12 to 18 months I expect to see Dow 20,000.”

Nearly two years later, it appears he was on the right track. Andrew Tangel, LA Times, March 6, 2013 writes:

“The Dow Jones industrial average has barreled to an all-time high, erasing $11 trillion of losses racked up when the financial crisis began five years ago. The stock market’s revival — with the Dow at a record 14,253.77 — has some respected minds on Wall Street suggesting the Dow will puncture 20,000 in just a few years. But, as investors may recall, the last few times the stock market seemed headed for records, disaster soon followed.”

Granted it took five years to reach the record high. As well, my husband a trader, reminded me that had we not crashed in 2008 we would have hit 20,000 soon enough. Moreover, the stock market isn’t the best signpost for recovery because it’s not adjusted for inflation. However, consider Daniel Gross’s recent analysis:

“Regular readers will note that I’ve long been pushing back against the notion that the U.S. is in economic decline. A stock market index like the Dow and the S&P 500 may not be the best barometer of national well-being. But it does say something about the ability of U.S.-based companies to thrive in an era when domestic growth is slow and when most of the growth takes place in unfamiliar foreign terrain.”

Certainly Gross or any other pundit isn’t the final word on predicting economic movement. You’ll find plenty of people ready to pick apart his argument line by line. But my philosophical point, and I generally write from philosophical underpinnings, is that the market is on the up, again. The Second Great Depression never came, as more than a few people predicted it would.

Of course there’s numerous times when people predicted a strong bull market and it turned horribly bearish. Outside of getting into the factors around market timing (which I don’t study) if you’re in the “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is” mindset then zoom in on Andrew Tangel’s hedging last line:

“But, as investors may recall, the last few times the stock market seemed headed for records, disaster soon followed.”

Can’t we enjoy a moment of celebration? Or is that too naïve, uninformed and resting on our laurels? After five years of getting the recessionary crap beat out of us we still have more economic naysayers who insist on a cover-all-bases prediction caveat of: “It looks good, but it won’t last” than eternal optimists.

Well true, it won’t last. Cycles, cycle.

But, I’d rather wake up every day cautiously optimistic than confidently pessimistic. It feels better. Be on the look out for good news. It’s out there, or it’s predictably on its way.

Further reading: 

Good News Network

The Best Industries for Starting a Business Right Now

Sooner or Later, Bear Market Will Growl Back.

Connecticut tragedy – where to look for hope

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles – view portfolio

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

It’s with the unspeakable events of today that I yearn for the bedtime story comfort of Mister Rogers.  There’s nothing we can say that will empty our spirit of the anger, the fear, the bleeding sadness that’s pressing so hard on our hearts we cannot breathe. We almost need to be reborn into the innocence of Mister Roger’s words, look for the helpers, the caring ones, the arms flung across the sobbing….

I refuse to die one more inch inside because another madman, once a child himself giggling in some distant elementary school, ravaged his own. I refuse to believe our world is crumbling faster than collective hope can re-balance. I refuse to believe we’re destined to fall off the cliff of humanity, no matter how many bullets fly.

To live outside hope is a soulless diminished world void of any reason for being, but that we’re here to watch the world devour itself.

No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

 

 

 

Presidential yard signs – Yay or nay?

Presidential yard signs, election 2012

Image courtesy of coward_lion / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

My husband recently joked with a neighbor about her courage to post a presidential yard sign in a neighborhood not likely to give her candidate a thumbs up. She told him she had an extra sign (for the candidate he and I support). He politely declined.

I won’t post political signs. My vote isn’t a secret; ask away but expect zero debate or conversion conversation. I don’t debate with friends, family or strangers. I debate with the candidates. Read full editorial…

 

 

 

Hiring out labors of love: Outsourcing our inner selves, love, kids and other personal realms

Photo: Free digital photos.net

Labors of love, once our exclusive personal domain, are now available for hire. But when we outsource our inner lives do we lose more than we gain?

Paying for personal services used to be a privilege afforded only the wealthy. Now professionals are accessible to the middle and upper middle class chasing the increasingly elusive free time.

Arlie Russell Hochschild, author of the book, The Outsourced Self: Intimate Life in Market Times, describes outsourcing our inner lives as paying for “emotional labor.” The transactions are however, complex despite the fact or maybe because they leave our closest relationships out of the equation.

Interested in a no-strings-attached friend to listen to your problems over lunch or to join you on a trip to Europe? Companies can rent companions. Need a “mom” or “grandma” to attend an event? Filler family members are available. Can’t settle on the right name for your child? A nameologist will narrow the list.  Read more….

Travyon – Zimmerman case stirs worldwide dialogue on racism. Why this case, why now?

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman caseWithout thinking, we all accused George Zimmerman of being an angry racist vigilante hell-bent on teaching a roaming black kid a lesson.

It didn’t help that he wasn’t hauled in right away for questioning after a young man walking home eating Skittles, presumably minding his own business, ends up dead.

Law enforcement fueled our anger when they dragged their feet, as did Rev Jackson when he came to town to tell the world how we should feel. After we watched the family mourn, the protesters scream and the world-wide attention titillate Central Floridians, the dialogue moved past who dunnit.

 

Photo credit: Talia

The question we have to ask is why this case, with these players, in this town, did this crime take on a life of its own? It’s a case bolstered by massive high-profile attention which prodded people to take a look at their own go-to beliefs about racism and justice.

Sanford, a town only 30 minutes from my house, isn’t so unique in it’s long-time simmering racial tensions. Read more….

The Duggar family of 19 kids: Extreme families stir curiosity.

Fourteen years ago my husband and I had a child. I wanted her more than anything in the world and was consumed with getting pregnant. After my daughter was born my husband and I felt filled, completed by the three of us and so we didn’t have any more kids.

Early on a few of my friends after hearing my motherhood horror stories decided the reason I wanted only one child was because I had postpartum depression, because I didn’t love being a stay at home mom despite being grateful that I had the choice in the first place, because my labor and delivery was long and off the charts painful, but that next time, they said – things would be different.

But hoping for different doesn’t feel like the best reason to have a child, does it?

The Duggar Family: What size is the right size?

When I think about the controversy with the Duggar family, (“19 and Counting”) I wonder, beyond the obvious issue of overpopulation why people feel so strongly about how many kids is the right amount?

Most people agree that bringing little ones into the world if parents can’t love and care for them to the highest level isn’t in a child’s best interest — but barring that, how many kids should someone have?

Is there some exact recipe like if you don’t add enough salt to your soup it’s missing something, add too much and you’ve ruined the whole batch?

When my daughter was around three, the age when people begin to ask when number two is coming, the questions about why we weren’t growing our family were for the most part few and far between. People nowadays generally assume a singleton family stays that way because a couple can’t have more kids — not because they choose to.

Women who have one child by choice don’t readily admit it although I have many times because it’s just simply part of who I am.  I think it’s hard for some people to wrap their head around the idea that having one child can be just as motherly and nurturing and fulfilling as having two. Maybe it looks like we’ve left some unfinished business or that we’ve thumbed our noses at our biological imperative women have.

But with deeper inspection behind the argument that bringing more and more kids into a stable loving home is the mark of selflessness, I feel compelled to point out that having kids, biologically or adopting for the right reason is what gets my selfless vote, that is – having kids because you have an unquenchable desire to add the love of a child to your already stable and loving relationship.

Michelle Duggar keeps having kids, I’m happy with one.

Our extremes defy the norm for what some people think is best for kids which is seems like at least one sibling but not too many.

People assume an only child misses out on what only a sibling can give (it’s true they do) and that each subsequent Duggar is exponentially less likely to receive the same amount of parental attention (that’s true too).

But kids can get love and attention from the “village” that surrounds them whether they’re short on siblings or short on parent time.

I won’t debate why the Duggars shun birth control and insist on having so many kids, I understand it’s for religious reasons.  Despite our very, very different points of view on who should orchestrate reproduction, the Duggar’s seem remarkably happy. Either they fake it well or the show’s editor is masterful at depicting a balanced family.

Admittedly the Duggars get proceeds from the show, and exploitation is a fair argument against having reality shows with kids, but from my sense this group is no more dysfunctional than the average family, and some might say, they seem even happier. 

I prefer, which is not to say I’m right, having kids be mostly well thought-out, but I’d never suggest “surprise” kids aren’t loved as deeply as planned ones.

But what we mostly ignore when we say want want only the best for kids as a whole is that the best is first an issue of intention. 

Intention is best for kids.

It’s the purpose behind having twenty children, one or none that honors kids. Do we have kids to fill ourselves, to mend a marriage to heal an emotional void? Or do we have kids to add exponential beauty to what is already healthy in our lives?

We’re still new at sorting out what having children means in this country. Our identity as women is still largely informed by our biological ability to have kids, to have one or to have six. Making babies has been hard-wired into our human survival so I understand it might take another half century or so to evolve to the point where we won’t feel our species is threatened if a percentage of the female population opts out entirely, or has one child.

But I have to think there’s no set formula for what makes a woman maternal enough. Women who want kids get their fill with different amounts of mothering— but there is a clear and painfully obvious formula for what makes an entirely bad mother.

One child or twenty 

My husband and I started our family when I turned 31. I  knew when I was 19 I’d need some form of infertility intervention, diagnosed at the time with a benign pituitary disorder called Empty Sella Syndrome. This meant Mother Nature would need a little kick in the pants (or in my case injections in the butt) with super hormones if I wanted to have kids. Not one to hail from the school of “if kids ares meant to be they will be” I decided, my child WOULD be — no matter what.

Carl and I went to my long time endocrinologist and after hormone injections and regular monitoring I got pregnant the first month — record time by infertility standards.  In our first consultation I asked the doctor what my chances were of conceiving if I wanted one or two kids and he said it was as high or nearly as high as any woman’s on any given month.

Click here for books on only children

Because I was adopted and never met my biological parents my craving to have a child of my own flesh was primal and ferocious. Whatever it took, for however long, for whatever amount of money in whatever country, I would do anything legal to have my own, and given my mindset at the time I probably would have skated on the legal fringes if it came down to it.

Failing wasn’t an option — while I totally supported adoption for other people, there was no plan B. There’s a kind of blind madness behind maternal drive, and yet women who don’t have this in my opinion, aren’t mad. Our conviction to opt out of having kids, to have one or twenty is equally irrepressible, equally non-negotiable.

Click here for books on only children

Michelle Duggar and I: Two different moms, same love

The first time I watched the Duggars on their reality show “17 and Counting” (at the time) I remember wondering beyond the obvious head-scratcher why a woman would ever want to go through childbirth seventeen times and raise that many kids. I self-righteously assumed such an enormous group of kids from parents who clearly bred offspring like puppies had to be really messed up.

But to assume a family as big as the Duggars is seething with emotionally neglected kids and middle-child syndromes is as prejudicial as believing a family with one child is missing something.

Extreme family sizes make us want to re-calibrate to the middle, to adjust the dimensions of another parent’s life to come closer to ours, and so reinforce what we think to be right.

Years back a friend of mine was grocery shopping and saw a frantic mother trying to get her three kids who were running between the aisles to settle down.  My friend remarked that she totally understood because she had three of her own at home, the woman said, “Yeah, it’s like those moms with one child aren’t really parents.”

Is it because of the discomfort of our mixed emotions, that squirrely motherhood ambivalence — that we adore our kids but hate the grind, that we sling arrows at a family that doesn’t match ours?

The number of children Michelle Duggar and I have are driven by the same intention — because of what defines us, because of what we feel kids deserve, both of us immune to the parameters society sets.

I’d guess Michelle and I both feel kids spring from a powerful power — mine from a spiritual place within that’s been quenched by my daughter, hers from a force above that perhaps wants more.

At first I was drawn to the Duggar family because I was fascinated with their bizarre world, and then because I liked watching them.  What goes on in their lives when the camera’s aren’t watching, what level of function or dysfunction sits in their family compared to mine is impossible to say, but small family or enormous — the intention is the love that fills the household.

Click here for books about only children

 

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