Compassion, please, before it’s too late | The Latte Guy, Jan. 16

“You may very well have limited power to choose what comes at you, what happens in the world, what evils men and women do. But you can always, always choose how to respond, how deeply you take it in, what sort of energy you hurl back out. How will you decide?”

– Mark Morford

Floods. Ice storms. An economy threatening to implode and take everyone in the world down with it. Genocide in Africa. A Middle East that has gone from a tinderbox to a firestorm. The unending war in Iraq. Terrorism on the rise. Pakistan. Afghanistan. A new season of American Idol.

The relentless drumbeats of doom pound away in syncopated rhythms of despair. What’s a conscientious, concerned citizen to do?

One can try looking on the bright side. USC won the Rose Bowl. Van Morrison has a new album out. Clint Eastwood has a new movie. The Office is back for a new season. Eagle Harbor Books and The Harbour House Pub are both still open for business. I still have a job, although just barely. This week, my employer announced the layoff of more than 10 percent of our staff. Among those losing their job are a couple of colleagues in my office who, between them, had more than 21 years with the company.

Until my company’s layoffs, the constantly dispiriting economic news had been for me a little like watching a really good horror movie – scary and disturbing. But ultimately not something that affected me directly, if you can call sleeping with the lights on and chair propped against the bedroom door not being directly affected.

With the layoffs in my own office this past week, the sorry state of the world suddenly became a little more real. It’s hard to know what to say to friends and colleagues who have suddenly lost their jobs.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross provided the world with a helpful list of the five stages of grief that many people go through in the face of an impending death, but I’m not sure there’s a similar guide for dealing with the loss of a job.

(Here’s a pop quiz. Can you name Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief? Answer: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Here’s another chance in case you missed the first one. Can you name the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse? Hint: None of them is named Dopey, Sauron, or Nancy Pelosi).

Without a handy guide to rely on, I fumbled my way through dealing with my soon-to-be former colleagues. I figured I couldn’t go wrong with showing a little compassion for their loss coupled with a lot of respect for what they had accomplished over the years and how graciously they were handling the bad news.

I confess that mixed in there with the compassion and respect was a fair amount of relief that it wasn’t my job that had been eliminated. And riding along on the coattails of that relief was a strong feeling of gratitude that I still had a job.

The loss of a job is a sobering thing, and not just for the person who finds him or herself out of work. It’s hard on the friends and families of those affected, on the colleagues left behind, and even on the companies that have to make the difficult decisions about which jobs to cut, and the managers who have to deliver the bad news to hard working men and women.

While it doesn’t make it any easier, maybe a mix of compassion, respect and gratitude are the best we can do to make such events as painless as possible.

Hmmm. Compassion, respect and gratitude. Maybe that’s not just a way to deal with unpleasant employment news, but perhaps also a recipe for how we ought to live our lives. Let me think about that a while.

In the meantime, if you see anybody on the street offering up one of those federal bailouts, let them know that it’s not just automakers and banks who could use a little help right now.

Islander Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the Island’s latte scene.

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