At least once or twice in my life I've talked to people in business who knew other business leaders who had to lay off or reduce the wages of their workers. I've wondered aloud whether it might not be a good idea for those business leaders to take pay cuts themselves, or at least freeze their pay wages while their workers were making sacrifices. On both occasions, it was patiently explained to me (as if I were a two year old) that "it wouldn't do any good." They meant, I suppose, that as big as their salaries seemed to be, if they cut their own wages, they could not save enough money to save any of those jobs, or to help their workers.
Of course, that is an explanation based on "the bottom line," profits and losses, and quarterly income statements. I get that explanation. I'm not stupid.
But I don't buy it.
The bottom line is not the only consideration in business, or in life. There is also a concept which has become almost (not quite) unknown in our culture: Shared Sacrifice.
It is a concept for people who are living in community, who know that they are members of one another, who know that their actions have ripple effects beyond their personal, individual lives and their family lives. When there is pain to be borne, we suffer together, and together we can make it through the dark night and back into the light. In a therapeutic sort of way, I suppose this is one of the benefits of grief groups and other support organizations.
As I have been reading the economic news these past few days, I've been wondering just what is in store for us as individuals, as families, as a nation. Some people have used the word "Depression" to describe what could happen. We are a much more prosperous nation now than we were in 1929: more of us have bigger houses, with more amenities, more things we consider necessities. For example, grandparents did not have a VCR, DVD Player, or a CD player. They did not have cell phones or computers. And they did not have anywhere near the books that I have. They went to the library.
But they did have more of one thing than we have: community.
I remember reading Russell Baker's book Growing Up several years ago. He poignantly describes what it was like growing up during the depression. One of the things that struck me about the book was the sense he had that everyone he knew was in the same boat, everyone was suffering together, everyone was struggling together. If there were executives with large salaries somewhere having parties, he didn't know about it.
Some have speculated that in these New Hard Times that we will rediscover what it means to live in community: to rejoice with those who rejoice, to weep with those who weep, to make sacrifices for the common good. Perhaps we will discover there is power in working together, serving together, maybe even worshiping together.
Or, maybe we won't.
What do you think?