Lisa Simpson: Did you know that the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity?’
Homer Simpson: Yes, ‘crisitunity!’
There’s an article in the New York Times that discusses the financial hardships that banking executives would face due to President Obama’s proposed salary limit of $500,000 per year on those who accept government bailout money. The article touches briefly on what some refer to as Sudden Loss Syndrome which I discussed here, so I won’t go into those issues again now.
Whether he wants to believe it or not, every therapist has a ceiling to his empathic abilities. There’s a boiling point, a peak where you simply can’t get into a person’s shoes and attempt to feel what he/she is experiencing. In some ways this limit is similar to the notion of Countertransference, where a therapist’s own psychological conflicts cause an emotional reaction toward the patient. Sometimes that reaction is anger, sometimes confusion and other times it can be simply indifference and there is an emotional numbing toward the patient’s problems. For some therapists this occurs when working with abuse perpetrators, for others it’s those with substance abuse problems. I’ve made no secret that I struggle not with the wealthy per se, but with those who have no connection with the real world because of that wealth. Those who live in a bubble of consumption, greed and entitlement, who believe they are better or more deserving than another and have no interest in understanding the plights of others. This is my Therapist Achilles’ Heel. And when those with riches and ignorance are required to adjust new demands from the environment but instead claim to be victims, my head crashes through my Empathy Ceiling, hurling into space.
Countertransference or not I believe I have an obligation to offer something to these people. However, because I don’t charge the highest fees in the city it’s unlikely these banking executives are going to be in my office anytime soon. So I’ll use this forum to give some advice to those who are now struggling with their new, unreasonable salary cap of half a million dollars per year:
Executives, an opportunity is right here, sitting in front of you. Here is a chance to connect with and understand how the real world works, to be a part of society. Don’t waste this crisis by wallowing in self-pity, perceived victimization and creative financing to keep all of your treasures and your bottomless hedonism. Come back down to Earth. Here’s how:
Sell your multi-million dollar home in the Hamptons. You won’t get what you believe it’s worth but you will be able to pay off the mortgage on your multi-million dollar apartment in Manhattan. You don’t even have to leave the city and scurry to the ‘burbs. You’ll only own one home (outright) and you might only be able to vacation once per year but I promise you that you won’t break.
Take your children out of Dalton*. Put them in a more affordable private school or, God forbid, public school.
Learn to shop at reasonably-priced fashion outlets for your suits and gowns for the galas that you must attend.
Since the bus or subway is out of the question for you (because, as the article so astutely points out, you ‘would not feel like yourself’), learn to drive your own car instead of paying a chauffeur $125,000 per year.
Learn to walk on a treadmill and save the personal trainers’ fees and cut back on the spa treatments and fine dining, especially the $8.50 frozen hot chocolates at boutique cafes to which the Times refers.
This is your chance, executives, to actually identify with real people who have real problems. You can move out of your glass house of frivolity and join society rather than engross yourself in a pity party of superficiality and disconnection. You have the opportunity to redefine yourself not as someone who believes he or she needs to wear only Brooks Brothers at the office, eat the finest caviar at every meal and ‘keep up with the Joneses’ at all costs, but as a person who can adapt to the conditions surrounding him/her. I understand that you are accustomed to a certain lifestyle, but the reality is that I’ve had patients who were “accustomed” to walking, only to lose a leg. Did they roll over and die? No, they adjusted. Acclimating to new environs is what evolved creatures do, and if you are truly the elite as some like to call you, this shouldn’t be a problem for you. Any therapist will tell you that no matter what you have habituated to, you can change it if you want to badly enough.
While this advice may sound harsh and unfeeling, it can actually bring you to a place of greater psychological health. If you are pitied and told that you don’t deserve a harsh reality or such an abrupt and rash change in lifestyle, that will simply perpetuate your delusion that you shouldn’t struggle with the rest of the world. This would be a mistake and, whether based on my own issues or not, I will not promote such treatment. I’m sure you can find a therapist who will advocate such an approach, but I would advise against that.
I’ts tough love time. Your greed and irresponsibility is perceived as being at least partly responsible for the financial clusterfuck we are experiencing. Most Americans hate you right now. This is your chance to give us a reason not to. Don’t find a loophole to make more money, don’t simply move on to a higher payer job and don’t give yourselves another round of colossal bonuses before the dawn breaks. Join the party and get the slightest glimpse into what real problems are. It won’t feel great at first but you’ll be a better person for it.
* Dalton is an extremely expensive private school in New York City. Executives, if you can show me real, empirical evidence that Dalton-educated children become happier adults – not richer, not more highly educated – but actually happier adults, I will gladly retract this piece of advice.