We’re heading into July 4th weekend, but many people might not feel like celebrating as the world and the economy keep changing. Part of that change involves grieving – and that’s all right.
Megan Devine is a psychotherapist and author of the book, “It’s OK That You’re Not OK.”
“Marketplace Morning Report” talked to her about grief and what it has to do with the economy.
Kimberly Adams : When we talk about grief and loss, especially in the moment we’re in, how can we use that language around what’s happening to the economy?
Megan Devine: If we think about how we use the language of loss to talk about pain and grief around joblessness, it’s like we sort of have to have a bigger conversation of how do we talk about grief at all. And certainly in our culture, we tend to look at grief as sort of a problem to be solved. You have to be resilient, you have to be strong and look on the bright side, and that’s not going to fly right now. What’s really important here is to acknowledge that this is hard. That is true for any kind of loss across that entire [grief] continuum, from those smaller everyday losses through job loss, through concerns about being able to pay your mortgage or find childcare, through the death of somebody you care about.
Adams: Grieving the loss of a way of life, that kind of shows up in so many ways, given what we’re going through. Not just people who lost their jobs, but maybe [you’re] working from home when you don’t want to be, wishing your kids could be in camps so that your work can get done, or even just missing the before times.
Devine: There’s so much to grieve. I don’t think we’ve ever really had a time, certainly in sort of recent history, of such compound and cascading losses. And I think you’re right to call it a loss of a way of life. We can’t rush back to normal. We can’t rush back to the way life used to be because that life doesn’t exist anymore. I think another really tricky part of this is the new normal hasn’t arrived. That story is still unfolding. And that’s really hard for people when they want to be able to hold on to something stable, and I think that’s also why we sort of rush to [the idea of] let’s reopen the economy, let’s be resilient, find another way to be strong.
Adams: If we use the language of grief and loss to talk about the changes that are happening in the economy right now and how we’re dealing with them, what does that mean for the eventual recovery?
Devine: I think that we’ve sort of built this idea that resilience is good for business, right? This might be a little bit of a stretch, but that sort of American economic narrative of being strong and resilient, that way of doing business and that way of life has also sort of been turned on its head during all of this. So it’s a loss and it’s also an opportunity. I’m really careful about using opportunity in the same sentence as grief because we rush into that transformation narrative, [which is] here’s this really difficult thing that happened and how can we very quickly turn it around so that things are even better than before. That’s not going to work here. I think that sort of transformation narrative of grief does a real disservice to those who have lost so much, not just their jobs, but they’re concerned for health care, they’re concerned for their families, and the ongoing ripple effects that will play out for a very long time in a lot of different sectors for a lot of different people.
Thinking about that idea of, times of crisis are also times of great opportunity, is going to be really tricky. What we can pull from the grief language is acknowledgement. That seems really weird, but we can’t build a new life until we tell the truth about what’s happening. Naming the loss and allowing yourself to have your feelings about it. Not so that you say stay sort of stuck in those feelings and rumination. There’s a difference between acknowledging your experience so that you can see your clear path forward versus ruminating about your feelings. That’s sort of an amorphous how we take the skills of grief to address job loss and economic uncertainty, but the the foundation is the same. Acknowledging what is real, allowing yourself to state that and to validate the truth of that situation, and then looking at creative ways forward while standing in that truth of your own experience.
Adams: Changes we’re experiencing in the economy and to some extent, even a lot of these job losses, it’s a collective loss. Does that make a difference in how we’re processing the grief around all of this loss?
Devine: I think it does make a difference. Very often when there is a mass tragedy, we as bystanders, as people not affected by that tragedy, sort of are like, “We’re with you. You’re not alone.” And the reality for the people who actually directly experience it, they’re like, “We actually are alone, you know. You’re not with me.” This pandemic and all of the things that have rippled out and happened because of and within this pandemic, nobody has been immune. There are no bystanders. That means we are actually all affected by this and we’re all in this together. So that idea, you’re not alone, in this [pandemic], isn’t lip service this time. That’s powerful.
Adams: Given how the American culture handles grief, specifically, what does that mean for how we’re processing this moment of what’s happening in the economy?
Devine: I think we tend to separate the “economy,” from the human scale. And that’s sort of an odd quirk here, where we elevate the economy above the culture. There’s a great astrologer, Caroline Casey, who talks about, do we have an economy or do we have a culture? And a culture is what we cultivate together. What do we grow together as a community. That’s a really interesting way to frame thinking about how do we move forward with this new economy in this new world that is still forming.
There’s this sort of idea around branding and marketing — just to take that that segment of the business world for a moment — marketers tell stories. The old story of the world is gone now. The new world story hasn’t yet arrived. How are we going to talk about that middle space, the world that is still dissolving and still forming? That sounds like sort of metaphysical and woo, but the truth is we don’t know how this story is going to be in six months, or a year from now, or 18 months from now. What do we want to cultivate together? What sort of culture do we want to create? What do we want to grow together? And how does our economy reflect what we have cultivated? What have we cultivated in the past? And how do we want that to change for the future? If we want to create a community that is more equitable, more just across a lot of different segments of of humanity and the world itself? It’s an important question to ask how does the economy serve the culture, and as a culture, what do we want to cultivate together? What do we grow in this new world, given that we have to rebuild?
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