The Great Recession-Catalyst for Psychological Growth

In light of last month’s tragedy in Japan, I addressed natural disasters in the first installment of this two part article that searches for deeper meaning behind global catastrophe.   Here, I continue to explore the positive side of tragedy by shedding light on our recent wake-up call now known to many as the Great Recession.

Economics is the longest of threads that intertwine the cultures, politics, disciplines, technologies, and interests of our increasingly globalized existence. Because the human race is becoming enmeshed, many economies and peoples were greatly challenged by the economic bust that began in America.  Still, I contend that the dysfunction is constructively catalyzing human growth and compassion and may ultimately help raise our shared values and motivations.

Here at home, a large cross section of Americans has been impacted by the crisis.  Affected people range from homeowners and bankers to the unemployed and underworked, from health care professionals and school educators to auto and insurance workers, as well as employees of struggling state governments. Many of these cash starved or retirement depleted folk are looking back angrily. They witness short-term and narrow-minded decisions of the banks and investors that were made in conjunction with anti-regulation policies of politicians.  Often with resentment, many declare that such greed-influenced irresponsibility should have been avoided.

Yes, it is important to illuminate what ran up to the multi-year economic crisis in hopes of gaining the proper awareness that can lead to the implementation of preventative and proactive measures.  I believe, however, that the self serving interests behind such practices have ruled geopolitics for centuries. Such motivations are not new to recent events. It is my contention that the majority of past economic and political practices have been influenced by ideas and emotions related to egoic individuation, such as separation, fear, competition, and dominance. This externally mirrors the centuries-long adolescent stage of collective human development.

Consider Marilyn Ferguson’s thirty-year old observation, from The Aquarian Conspiracy, “The failures of our economic philosophies, like the failures of our political reforms, can be  attributed to their emphasis on the external.  Inner values, like inner reform, precede outward change (p. 327).   Ferguson continues, “Whatever our priorities—self aggrandizement, efficiency, status, health, security, recreation, human relationships, competition, cooperation, craftsmanship, material goods—they are reflected in the workings of the economy” (p. 327).

Warning-infused predictions of economic crisis have circulated philosophically progressive writings for decades. Barbara Marciniak, for instance, in her 1992 esoteric book, Bringers of the Dawn, predicted that natural disasters would play a role in bringing about the collapse of the insurance companies, which would bring about the necessary collapse of many other systems.

We know that a megalithic insurance company, AIG, was one of the most important early dominoes of the crisis to fall.  The question of whether natural disasters played a role in hampering the health of the insurance industry, in combination with the more glaring deregulation problems related to the real estate bubble and derivatives market, is left for others to ponder.  Marciniak’s commentary, however, might lead us to wonder whether our current economic speed bump is just one of several to come.  This certainly is more likely if financial and other reforms do not continue to be implemented wisely.

No matter the way in which economic dysfunction was expected, predictions confidently pointed to its inevitability. Importantly, the predictions also promised that such change would lead to substantive and lasting reorientation of economic priorities.  In the 1994 work, Searching for Light, Carol Heidemann’s source reported, “great chaos is required to literally force souls to develop a system of balanced interactions” (p. 29).

In the late eighties, the Michael Digest group predicted, “the United States, after having experienced large economic expansion (through a series of expansions and contractions) over its history, is destined to experience a large contraction” (p. 52).  This, according to this source, will catalyze a values shift; “a severe economic recession would cause us all to look at how the economic system works and how we run our lives . . . sweeping us up into mature perceptivity” ( p. 52).

As early as 1962, philosopher and physicist, Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, convincingly argued that paradigms shift when the prevailing structures (intellectual and/or institutional) fail to accommodate changing circumstances. Of course, the wide array of global pathology, which exists today and was listed in the part I of this article, should suggest that our structures do not suffice.

Progressives, meanwhile, continue to call for institutional restructuring that reflects new knowledge, changing times and needs, and higher values. Proper adaptation to changing circumstance, however, tends to lag considerably in time.  This is partly due to resistance by those benefiting from the failing forms.  These powerful policy influencers fear that change could diffuse their long-held status and wealth.  A polarization ensues, represented by two large bodies, one of which resists while the other attempts to progress.  American politics reflects this tension visible for the entire world to witness.

I believe even greater changes are at play and reflect a movement from one collective level of consciousness (average of a diverse human species) to a more advanced stage.  According to esoteric sources, our species has finally reached a new degree psychological maturation.  A more adult collective psyche, with its improved cognitive depth, provides us better ability to turn inward in our awareness.  This leaves us more equipped to be compassionate and cooperative. Crises help with this process and force people to accelerate self-examination.

If it is true that an increasing number of individuals are now operating beyond ego-based intentions, we are then improving our ability to self-observe the detrimental impact behind our previous and current ways of relating.  Such individuals come to perceive that behavior that benefits the greater whole also better serves oneself.  As opposed to maintaining systems that benefit just isolated individuals or businesses, humanity must adapt institutions to be more efficient in their service of an increasingly integrating whole.

One could argue that we are already starting to witness the psychological benefits of the Great Recession. Many people have chosen to reorient their life priorities, for example. Some have taken on new roles within their families and/or have begun the process of finding more meaningful service-oriented work aligned with their true passions.  And many economists argue that new and more conscientious consumer choices will outlast the economic downturn.

As we slowly emerge from the rubble, more reflective and aware of what is important, let us forward new economic paradigms that embrace the ideas of service, cooperation, networking, responsibility, integrity, sustainability, health, and the sharing of resources and power.  Businesses that practice with higher values should not only survive, but flourish.

Finally, consider a long-term prediction of a more idealistic economic environment, which reflects a near reversal of economic motivation.  Jenna Catherine, in the 1998 Conversing with the Future, foresaw a time when the business world is free of profits, forecasts, taxes, and ownership, all of which, according to her, block the flow of energy.  When and if this occurs, she predicts that businesses will evolve beyond egotistical control, become more alive and vibrant, and even value love.