“I don’t know what’s happening to me, I don’t feel normal, I don’t where I am.” Or “I don’t know why I get so angry these days, just pissed off, I feel so many more emotions than I did.”
Sound familiar? Not just patients express new feelings of distress and disturbance, but people at the bus stop and the check out counter. A new volatility has come, not merely to stock markets but to people’s self-sense, social engagement and fears for their future.
Normal isn’t normal any more.
The National Well-Being
Though politicians and pundit proclaim that economic happiness leads to life satisfaction, the facts keep tripping them up. The economy may be improving, but the Gallup-Sharecare Well-being Index is at its lowest point since the middle of the “Great Recession” in 2008. Nearly half the states saw significant declines in how people regarded their levels of contentment from 2016 to 2017. The economy may be growing, even with higher incomes for some, but people are more unhappy, irritable, worried, pessimistic. They want to know why.
Power and Presence
The respondents to the Gallup Sharecare poll think they know the reason for their lack of confidence and growing fear – politics and polarization. Greater feelings of tension and rancor exist in the workplace and at home, and “they don’t go away.” The causes of this division are also ascribed in polarized fashion, ranging from the belief that national distress is the result of the dividing instincts of a sociopath who has spent his adult life lying, cheating, and intimidating, declaring investigations into his actions “an attack on our country,” to those who see a mighty leader defending against the dangerous dark deeds of a deep state. Undoubtedly such divisions bring gladness to folks like Vladimir Putin and Daesh, but they are not unknown in American history. Often politics mirrors other social, technological and economic changes in a country undergoing uninvited upheavals.
The New World of Work and Home
In the past few weeks people have learned that Facebook has hoovered up so much private information from so many sources many exclaim the company knows more about them than they do themselves, and happily continues to sell the information to whoever wishes to manipulate their shopping, political, and cultural lives. And that’s just one corporation holding the new high value currency – data. People have been told for years privacy is dead. Now some are beginning to believe it.
Meanwhile, reports of the potency of Artificial Intelligence declare it will “wipe out” anymore from 14 to 30% of jobs over coming decades, ranging from check out clerks to radiologists and pathologists. Workers find their every keystroke is tracked, along with their whereabouts, phone calls and social connections, making them wonder if work and work surveillance ever ends. Schoolchildren go through “active shooter” drills rather than recess, while their parents trade bitcoin at home. Doctors go to their offices to work as data entry technicians, if they are psychiatrists writing two simultaneous charts demonstrating mandated continuous patient improvement in order to get paid, while nurses burn out from trying to succor families, attend bureaucratic meetings, take phone calls, answer text messages, chart in unruly and unyielding electronic health records while trying to find the time and energy to take care of patients. Young millenials are told they will never be able to retire, buy a home or have the financial wherewithal to start a family, as they prepare for a life of three or more careers required by a “changing” economy while paying for the health care and social services of their elders.
There are many reasons for distress.
A Different Perspective
Trying times demand different attitudes. Unfortunately missing from much of the media mayhem of the present is a sense of history, which can provide perspective and personal peace. History may not not repeat itself, but it rhymes.
Many people worried about stock market volatility remain unaware American markets tanked by three quarters from the late sixties to early seventies. Nor do that many recall the rancor and daily fear of the Watergate years nor the grand economic mess that followed, with homes unsellable and interest rates of eighteen percent. All this was followed by the eighties, with shifts in popular culture from “Hair” and Woodstock to “Dynasty,” an era shift from mass cultural conflict to the timeless glories of getting rich.
People are now told to fasten their seatbelts. From the standpoint of safety they should always wear them. Yet the roads, mountains, valleys and rivers will remain, if you don’t stray too far from the coast.
Volatility – psychological, cultural, political, economic, has come. But as in the past, it will not always last. And a sense of the past will help that come to pass.