The word ‘recess’ has several meanings – a dark cavity in a wall, a break or time-out. The response to the economic recess-ion does not seem to have reflected upon the deeper meanings of the word. There is certainly a frenetic scramble to get back to the prosperity that we had without a consciousness that it has not worked! In terms of the individuals at the top of banks and other financial institutions, no evidence of a deeper reflection and consequential taking responsibility for their reckless actions has emerged. This is true too for many politicians.
There is a need for all of us – not just the bankers, property developers and politicians – to examine the dark inner recesses of our minds that led to the collusion with what happened and to the very powerful realities of depersonalisation, avarice, greed, bullying, passivity and superiority that were part and parcel of the well-named ‘tiger’ economy. In term of passivity, in the words of Seamus Heaney there was ‘the government of the tongue’ by heads of work organisations and the prevailing message among employees was ‘whatever you say, say nothing.’ Those who allowed themselves to be tongue-tied also need to take responsibility for their non-active response. The old saying ‘when good men do nothing, evil thrives’ is particularly relevant here.
Sustained economic prosperity is only possible when there is an equal – I would say greater – focus on the emotional and social prosperity of each individual within our country. The dark development of Human Resources Departments within work organisations led to anonymity at work being a common experience for individual employees. Before the ‘boom’ these used to be called Personnel Departments which largely recognised that it is individual persons that an organisation employed and not a resource to be exploited. Certainly, the reflection on the recession needs to involve a very serious look at relationships within the workplace and also relationships with clients which had also become depersonalised. However, a deeper recess within each of us needs to be visited – and that is one’s relationship with self.
When any of us confuses self with work or success or wealth or status or power we bring a dark immaturity to relationships within marriage, family, workplace and community. These addictive responses arose from significant relationships in childhood in homes and classrooms and were creatively fashioned as substitutes for the real belonging that is part of our nature – the need for unconditional love. As an adult, it is my responsibility – not optional – to unconditionally belong to self and to operate out from a solid and independent interiority. This is the inner journey that each human being is called upon to travel and there is no better or more fitting time than the beginning of a New Year that can bring endless possibilities for a deepening of personal maturity that is critical to emotional, social, political and economic prosperity.
Another issue that needs addressing is the belief that the ‘tiger’ economy was a result of the Government emphasis on education from the 1960’s onwards. However, a realisation is now needed that that education certainly prepared people for work, but not for maturity. Indeed, it fostered a dependence on work, success and wealth and, thereby, blocked the emergence of personal maturity. Personal maturity is an essential aspect of professional effectiveness, a reality that hopefully will be realised in the coming year. The notion too that ‘the pen is lighter than the shovel’ also demeaned work that is central to physical and social wellbeing. What came about was the importing of labour to do this important work. Education needs to ensure that all work is appreciated and valued and that the pen cannot do without the shovel nor the shovel without the pen. The threat that ‘you’ll end up working on the roads’ came from a defensive superiority and has proved to be counterproductive. Education needs to be primarily geared towards individual maturity – an empowering of individuals to take responsibility for self and one’s actions. It needs to stay loyal to the true meaning of education (from the Latin word educare – meaning to draw out) and work from the inside-out of each individual student. The more that educators affirm the unique presence of each student and appreciate the unique creativity and intelligence that each individual student brings to the classroom, the greater likelihood of sustained emotional, social and economic prosperity.
Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist and is author of several books on practical psychology including The Mature Manager.