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Creating confidence - Martha Randolph Carr

The American people went on a lollapalooza of a spending binge for the past thirty years that only grew steadily bigger, until last fall, when we finally hit bottom.

It's OK, there's no need to whisper anymore. We all know we had some part in it and we're all sorry it happened.

Until that moment when it all caved in, no amount of dire warnings about our lack of savings or the size of credit both individuals and corporations were carrying did anything to slow us down.

Now, the economy is currently suffering from a chronic case of the banks and corporations wanting to know for sure that all of the bad news is on the table. There was so much sleight of hand with the accounting that a lot of places are genuinely unsure of how much bad debt they're still carrying on their books.

It doesn't help that fiscal experts kept saying the worst is over for a solid year as we slid deeper and deeper into recession. Our confidence is shot,and at long last, we're hoarding our money, which is not exactly like saving. It's like all the spending, but in reverse. Both lack a sound financial plan that can be implemented over time and should take both the law and common sense into account.

That's why there's so little spending of any kind going on, which ironically is exactly what we need right about now. It's just that we need to actually figure out first what we hope to accomplish with the money, and then come up with a budget, which includes that saving.

But somewhere between the stock market cleaving itself in half in 52 short weeks and an estimated 48 percent of American homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments, we got hopelessly stuck in doubt. We don't seem to be able to accept what we've done as a nation and move forward. Instead, we're busy screaming at each other in an inopportune argument about who's going to be right when this is all over.

The need to be right can be stupefying when it comes to making positive change. It's impossible to move forward or create anything because the risk of failure is always lurking. No one can be absolutely certain that they can control just enough of the factors to guarantee that things won't go badly.

Most often, the result is that anxiety and fear grow as people turn on each other in some senseless battle to feel safer using might, and they end up doing nothing to actually come together.

Let this be the day we each resolve to make a different choice. No reckless spending, but no insulting each other or those in Washington from either side of the aisle, either. Instead, find some trusted friends and admit every fiscal mistake you've been keeping to yourself hoping to figure it out before foreclosure makes it painfully obvious. Let yourself off of the hook and ask for help.

Be the one to go first and understand that nature doesn't know right or wrong anyway, only consequence, and we're all finally exhausted enough to deal with ours without all of the drama. Work out with others what it is you'd like to see happen for yourself, your family and your community over the next year, and then five years. Make them reasonable and then start working together to see what can be done to atone for the mistakes and what can be started to build a new day.

Understand that some of it is going to be painful and some of it may require helping others who made bigger mistakes or just got caught in the mess. Stop trying to make judgment calls about who really deserves help, and just be of service. Perhaps, if we all stop railing about justice, we'll even find a little mercy. That's when America is always at her best and the magic really happens.

If you'd like to get involved in the 2009 America Challenge to raise funds for community-based charities, e-mail me at Martha@CagleCartoons.com, for more information. Together, we're going to build stronger communities and empower ourselves.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. E-mail her at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.