Whenever I find myself getting down about our nation’s political and economic woes, I think of a conversation I had with my boss, back in the early 2000’s. The idea he shared with me that crisp, spring day still resonates with me, despite the passage of almost two decades. For years, I found comfort in it, replaying its melody like a piece of smooth jazz, but now it strike me like a death knell. The stakes of our survival, propped against the backdrop of our polarized citizenry, have grown too high.
I’ve always resisted talking politics at work, as my positions tend to lie on the other side of the fence of those in control of my livelihood. My boss did not subscribe to this point of view, but fortunately his personality leaned toward promoting thought and discussion as opposed to stirring the pot.
There was a lot for us to talk about in the first few years following the turn of the century. We’d barely caught our breath from the Y2K threat, only to find ourselves floundering in the wreckage of the Bush v. Gore Florida recount debacle and in a sudden scramble to manage the fallout of the 9/11 attack. The cards setting the stage for the 2008 recession were also still being dealt.
That morning, I stopped by my his office to update him on the one-day business trip I’d made the day before, involving airplane travel. Given the fodder of material at our fingertips, he launched into what I considered to be a relatively benign conversation topic: the extreme airport security measures being implemented in response to both 9/11 and the recent shoe bomber scare.
He poured out his frustration with the new shoe removal policy, and then much to my confusion, he did an about face and laughed his concerns away. I must have given him an odd look, because he gestured for me to have a seat, so he could explain. A seasoned man at the twilight of his career, he never passed up an opportunity to mentor.
“Don’t ever let yourself get too down about the policies and practices our government implements. What I do, is think about the state of the nation as if it were a moving pendulum. The ideal spot would be for it to hang over the center, but it never does. Things always swing back and forth, from one extreme to another. Just when it seems like the tide has gone too far in one direction, eventually it turns and shifts back to the other.”
I gave careful consideration to his words, especially knowing his background. Born on Pearl Harbor Day, he was more studied on the history of World War II than most folks his age, let alone mine. He also enjoyed reading the writings of past Presidents and other historical figures as a hobby, and as an Engineer by both education and trade, he most certainly understood the physics behind his theory.
Time passed. I became a mother of young children and moved on to other employment. But, his idea never strayed far from my thoughts. The more I reflected on it, the more sense it seemed to make. It also provided me with an excuse, a reason to get less involved in social and political issues.
Local, national, and global matters continued to squawk in my ears, but before they could grow too loud, I’d remember my boss’s words and turn down their volume until they became nothing but background noise. I threw my energy into my family and took some much needed time to explore leisure and hobby related activities. I needed a break from social causes, and I knew there would be many others in my stead to pick up the slack.
The years wore on and time only seemed to prove my boss’s point, the biggest example being the 2008 recession. The pendulum swung hard, opposite the economic prosperity brought about in the nineties. But then, it fluttered back, gaining in momentum as the country recovered. But did it? There are a lot of people swimming out to sea, but it seems a lot of folks have been left behind in the wake.
It is hard not to think another swing is coming, one much more dramatic than before. Not only do the headlines blare out warnings of economic recession, but our social temperament is heating up to a point never felt by today’s younger generations, while our physical climate borders on temperatures never before known to humanity.
As today’s stuffy, summer heat envelopes my body, a question spins in my mind, growing in size and fury like a tornado. It’s something I wish I’d had the foresight to ask my boss those many years ago. I’m not sure he would have had an answer.
What if the pendulum swings so hard, the rope snaps?
No longer can I remain on the sidelines, as others determine the course and strength of the pendulum swing. The time has come for me to get back into the arena, though I am no longer playing game. I am taking my place alongside those few of us who are willing to shoulder the burden caused by society, the task of shoring up the strength of the fixed point before everything collapses.