Fireside update

It’s 19 degrees outside and I am taking a break to enjoy the warmth of our wood stove. Working from home allows me to spend more time on the things that matter to me, but it doesn’t always translate into blog  posts even though writing is one of the great pleasures in my life.

Blogging got put aside for days while I dealt with the problems of running a business and caring for my wife while she recuperated from surgery. We are making progress in all areas, but it is taking more time than expected. Today, things are going well and I wanted to post an update.

The biggest challenge of doing business in hard times is maintaining confidence that something can be done to achieve positive results. Since I am wrestling with this problem myself, I try not to waste your time with my opinions. It is hopefully more useful if I can report on what works and what doesn’t.

I try to draw useful conclusions out of every experience and have found that bad experiences can produce long term benefits if completely understood. Since I try to do the right things, if things turn out wrong I need to figure out what I did not understand and get it right for the next time.

I was no better prepared for this recent downturn than anyone else, so I am not dispensing knowledge from some ivory tower. I write things down as I discover them in the hopes that  they may be useful to others.

Now that many of my customers are retrenching, I have cut back on my expenses and have increased my networking to reach out and find people who need services I can provide.

Fortunately, this has produced encouraging results. It is not business as usual by any means, but it is movement in a positive direction and I will happily take what I can get these days. I am also taking every opportunity to assist others in promoting their businesses and to connect people up in every way possible.

In a small community such as ours, peoples lives are tightly connected. When one family suffers a loss, others are more likely to reach out and lend a hand. This benefits the giver as much as the receiver.

This recession may inspire a greater sense of community in many areas as people learn to rely on each other for support again. We generally do better in life as we are aligned with others. If you feel out of touch and alone, there is probably something you should do about that. Try finding someone else you can help. That is a good place to start.

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0 Responses to Fireside update

  1. mattbg says:

    Good point about finding someone to help, although I struggle with the problem of finding the right person to help. As with the discussions around whether or not GM should get a bailout, I’d rather give my help to someone that has a sustainable approach to life and who has simply fallen on hard times and needs a break, rather than throwing money down a black hole into a lifestyle that was barely sustainable only in the very best of times. It’s hard to know whether this is true or not without knowing them well.

    From this perspective, it’s much easier to help out small businesses. There is at least some evidence that they are trying to do for themselves and you can usually spot the ones that are trying to take advantage of their customers quite quickly (and people are less shy about telling negative stories about businesses rather than people, even though the business-owner is really the one indirectly being discussed).

    So, that’s who I’d choose to help. But, if I was lonely, it wouldn’t help with that very much 🙂

  2. Good advice as we all are facing similar situations. It always works better when you don’t try it alone!

  3. Mouse says:

    I am hopeful that our current economic troubed waters will have some positive effects, that people will learn to be happier with a more modest lifestyle, that some kind of common sense returns to the world of rampant consumerism. Mostly though I hope that they will decide to reach out to each other and offer a helping hand…
    I hope that Gretchen’s recovery is speedy, I send her my love and best wishes

  4. Thanks for this thoughtful reflection, David. Difficult as this period of time is, our own extended family’s conversation around the dinner table has deepened, and the teenage grandchildren are listening and participating in a way I have not seen before (no more Ipods in ears). For them to learn that Recession is more than a word in some dusty old history book (if indeed children are taught such unpleasantries these days) is an important survival lesson for their own futures.

    Give my best to the lovely, recovering Gretchen.

  5. Rick Parrish says:

    I find mattbg’s comment interesting because it’s a problem I’ve run into before. One effort that I worked with in the past began by attempting to help disadvantaged families around the holidays each year. It soon became obvious that some of these families had multiple invitations from well-meaning groups and not only did some not appreciate the efforts of our group (a church congregation), some were quite jaded and the children were downright rude in response to the gifts and Christmas parties that they were given. This led to a reevaluation of what we were trying to do and the spirit in which we were doing it.

    We eventually settled on a program of home visits with families on a list supplied by Community Action and took with us token gifts of a spiritual or educational nature along with a couple of hundred dollars worth of grocery gift certificates donated by a local chain. The certificates could not be used for certain items like cigarettes, alcohol, etc. but only for food and necessities. The idea behind this program was to free up some of the families’ limited income so that they might be able to do something special for their children during the holiday season.

    Then came our moral dilemma. Some of our home visit volunteers began to complain about the lifestyle of some of the recipients after seeing their nice double-wide homes, big TV’s, etc. This was not extremely common and some did indeed live in very poor conditions but most did show evidence of having made some very poor decisions along the way.

    As chairman of the committee, I counseled our volunteers that it was our goal to help where we could and not to judge those who, for whatever reason, had come upon hard times. Some had experienced extreme misfortune, some were victims of generations of cyclical poverty and some just routinely made bad choices. Not knowing more than what our eyes told us, it was not our place to judge. We decided that our guiding sentiment was from the words of Jesus: “whatsoever you do for the least of these your brothers, you do for me.”

    Now you may want to compare this concept of people in a cycle of poor decision making to businesses that make poor decisions and deserve to fail. I think this comparison breaks down when you consider that at some higher levels (like the Big Three Autmakers) these bad decisions were not made because of lack of education, experience or wise counsel but purely due to greed and the desire for maximum short-term profit. I know this is over-simplified; the issues of pension plans, health plans that pay for Viagra and complicated Union contracts are beyond my comprehension. I do however understand that they are a part of the overall picture.

    So we do have to carefully consider who we help. Buying from small local businesses and supporting efforts to make sure that children are fed and clothed regardless of the circumstances of their parents (or the reasons they are in those circumstances) are noble ways to reach out to others. The latest movement in the direction of grass-roots activism may hold within it the seed of success. At some level, the wealthy are always going to look out for the wealthy. If the rest of us look out for each other and spend wisely of our time and money with careful consideration of the consequences of our actions, we will always maintain that “pioneer spirit” that has brought our nation through every crisis it has encountered.

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