january_2009_cover_150Main Street Journal
January 2009
pp. 8-9

Americans have peculiar ways of dealing with change, be it economic turbulence, political upheaval, social transformation, environmental fluctuation or even the general passing of time.

We venture into this New Year expecting further, significant adjustments in each of these areas. And while trials and challenges unfailingly bring out the best in us, the alarmingly wretched reactions of a few tend to receive the most press. It’s as if we’re desperate to confirm the worst assumptions about ourselves and our appetite for self-negativity can never be satisfied.

Our faltering economy has brought higher unemployment and poverty rates, giving company to the higher foreclosure rates that resulted from (and helped cause) the downturn. As if on cue, local police say the rate of home burglaries has risen by double digits, while shoplifting and employee theft has jumped 5-20% nationally.

Mental health experts predict surges of depression, drug use, anxiety and violence. In one infamous mash-up of mob mentality, rampant consumerism and what CNBC has dubbed “survival panic,” holiday shoppers trampled and killed a retail worker – and continued shopping.

Our political elites have only made matters worse, with their blind determination to avoid the consequences of unwise purchasing, borrowing and investing with . . . unwise purchasing, borrowing and investing. In their eagerness to save the economy (or to be credited with its rescue), they have trampled the American taxpayer – and kept on spending. The free market has been given a time-out while the federal government busies itself with hand-outs and bail-outs.

But not everyone is counting on a government quick fix, breaking into retailers and residences or trampling supermarket employees. The vast majority of Americans are quietly making sound decisions, as individuals, that will sustain them through these storms. Without media fanfare, and without any help from politicians, they’re planning for their own safety and security, keeping watch over their family, friends, neighbors and the community.

Reports say we’re stocking up on staple items, bargain hunting, fixing things ourselves and paying more attention to our household budgets. That’s why companies such as Family Dollar, H&R Block, Wal-Mart and AutoZone have enjoyed double-digit stock increases. We’ve also seen record sales of items like home safes, firearms and ammunition, as we attend to our own savings and self-defense, hedging against Washington’s uncertain agenda.

Americans haven’t been selfish, either. A recent Gallup survey found that charitable giving remained strong and that “the recession has not had much impact on the total pool of givers.” And a local study found that Memphians give even more to charity than the national average, with at least half of contributions being attributed to our strong religious values.

This conservative embrace of religion and self-reliance is often discouraged or chided as “guns and God” sloganeering, fear-mongering or paranoia.

In actuality, it’s simply part of the American fabric – carefully woven threads of resilience, thrift, prudence, faith, resolve and independence. It’s the same collection of virtues the Pilgrims brought with them to this great land; they prospered here not because the land was bountiful but because their hearts and minds were abundant with these values.

So in this time of great change, there is real hope. It is this: our greatness does not lie in the wealth of our possessions or in the wisdom of our government’s plans; the only resources we need for renewal and revitalization are within the American people themselves.