Sunday, June 07, 2009

The Right to be Sad and Jobless

Deep in the American social psyche is the Calvinist notion that setbacks in health and finances are always the fault of the sufferer. Wealth is seen to be the sign of divine approval not as Balzac's evidence of a crime. Similarly, ever since the New England Reader we have believed that cleanliness (and healthy living) is next to godliness.

One of the most difficult things about bouts of depression is hearing the well-meaning exhortations to be happy, exercise, meditate, as if the person had set out to defy the 11th American Commandment: thou shalt be cheerful. It echoes the chorus of Wall Street traders who jeered "losers" in response to aid for laid off people who were unable to pay their mortgages.

Rationalist-minded 21st century denizens might want to revise the social norm. We might want to be cheerful about having jobs (90.6 percent of us still do) while respecting the reasonable right to a little gloom and doom when others are so moved.

Between the medieval vale of tears and the 19th century delight in progress, lies another path, still unnamed and figuratively undescribed.
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