Brand building through storytelling

Apocalypse? Armageddon? I’ve got a life to live!

I have a friend who keeps his TV on, tuned to the Bloomberg channel, so he can follow every tremor and plunge in the market. He sighs, he paces, he exclaims at the unfathomable horror of it all. He’s given up hoping for good news, so he fixates on the latest premonition of doom.

For God’s sake, why? Is he practicing some kind of mental voodoo? Or am I the one who’s gone a little soft in the head? I have chosen not to know what’s happening on Wall Street today. It could be thunderously awful, a descent of staggering, unprecedented proportions (my, how reporters love the lingo of despair), but knowing the details will not do a thing for my poor, battered portfolio or the dwindling value of my home.

I refuse to spend the next year or five “waiting for the bottom” like an antsy kid on an interminable road trip, pleading to mom and dad, “Are we there yet?” At least mom and dad knew the route to Grandma’s house. No one’s got a clue when we’ll get to the bottom of this mess—let alone what it will take to climb out. And meanwhile the prophets of disaster keep blowing hot air on the flames of panic, setting the blogosphere ablaze.

When Harvard financial historian Niall Ferguson made dire predictions to The Globe and Mail (“There will be blood…”), the story quickly became the best-read item ever posted on the newspaper’s website. Not to be outdone, businessman and pastor John Hagee is flogging his book Financial Armageddon (“We are in a battle for our very survival,” screams the subtitle, against a backdrop of leaping flames). If you doubt the appetite for this stuff, try Googling “financial armageddon”: at last count I noted 325,000 citations. Playing catch-up, with 218,000 citations, is “financial apocalypse”—which, needless to say, doubles as a book title, America’s Financial Apocalypse: How to Profit from the Next Great Depression.

There’s something weirdly gleeful about about this stuff. The calamity brigade, having worn out “crisis” and “catastrophe,” now seem to revel in the D-word, as if they get a nasty little thrill from sowing fear. The escalating panic reminds a little of the flagellation craze that swept Europe during a time of unimaginable horror, the Black Death. Thousands of people would parade through the streets, lashing themselves until they bled.

Pestilence, or plague, was among the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, along with War, Famine and Death. Now we have the Four Horsemen of Hysteria: Fear, Despair, Anger and Blame.

It’s human to quiver in the face of mysterious threats. Yet when the usual rules no longer apply, when every day raises questions that leave so-called experts shaking their heads, the only fallback is trial and error, not to mention great reserves of stoicism and patience. Pundits don’t even want to understand this; they deal in absolutes. Ambiguity is not good copy. But in these times, it’s good sense—as ordinary people do seem to understand. That’s why most Americans support President Obama, who has the wisdom to embrace ambiguity, even though they are still losing jobs, homes and businesses with no end in sight.

Today the Los Angeles Times told the story of Lois Draegin, a chic 55-year-old who once earned six figures as an editor at TV Guide. Now she’s starting over as an unpaid “executive intern” for, a website for women over 40. The very thought made me cringe. Could I bear to read this piece?

I’m glad I did, because what strikes me now is the curiosity and grace that this woman, who could be an ex-colleague of mine, is bringing to her new circumstances. She’s learning the ways of the web from 24-year-olds; they’re learning resilience from her. No doubt there are nights when she lies awake and wonders if she’ll ever find another decent job, let alone have the resources to retire. But she keeps on trucking, as we said in the 60s. And I’m rooting for her.

As for me, I’ve already retired (I keep looking for a snappier word, but “retired” will have to do for now). I don’t have the resources I thought I had. Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night and ask myself what the future holds for my husband and me—and the millions of others who once thought we knew where we stood.

Call me naive, but I never see blood in the streets. I’m counting on good will and creativity to carry us through. I’m encouraged to see that crime in New York has actually fallen lately, defying predictions of mayhem.

Who knows, maybe communes will make a comeback. I picture a band of friends around a table set for 12, eating a hearty, peasant dish—say, whole wheat spaghetti with olive oil and anchovies. Each of us has brought something to the scene: one person’s stemware that holds our wine, someone else’s carpet that warms our feet, a third friend’s dog sniffing about, waiting for a morsel to drop his way.

It’s not what I expected. But it would do nicely.


Posted by Rona

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