Jan 12, 2009

What happens the morning after?

Posted by: Marian Salzman In: "The Obama Effect"| American life| Boomers| Cuspers| The Age of Selfish| recession

Obama style and inauguration energy are everywhere, and as great as it feels, I’m starting to wonder if there will be morning-after disappointment when we wake up January 21 and our problems are still very much real, even with our first Cusper president. I’m not thinking in terms of politics, but in terms of managing expectations. It’s a corporate communications imperative—getting people comfortable with what they may hear, sharing breaking news in words and tone that make it easiest to absorb and process. When a company misses its corporate earnings forecast but has effectively managed the message prior to the release of the bad news, financial analysts are much less punitive than when surprising turns cause shock and disbelief. When a news report begins as a whisper and we become increasingly comfortable that there is a negative turn of events in the offing, we develop the capacity to cope. In contrast, a flat-out nasty bolt of lightning like Bernie Madoff’s admission that billions had evaporated can bewilder and leave us all looking over our shoulder, and one another’s, waiting for the next ugly truth—which sadly, followed like clockwork. Madoff’s own 74-year-old sister has to sell her house in Florida to raise cash thanks to his handiwork. Who is safe if a sister can be swindled?

I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals over the past two years, both as a patient and a family member, and I think we can also learn lessons about message delivery from how doctors share bad news without embellishment or false promises. My fear about the Inauguration’s “morning after” is that there has been no clinical medical expert sitting us down, warning us of the dire condition, the lifestyle changes and the need to suck it up and admit we will never regain a certain amount of cellular elasticity or emotional verve even if our health—or Uncle Sam’s—rebounds. There are painful truths ahead. When we emerge from the Inaugural festivities—the highly anticipated parade and address and ball—what will our expectations be? The Age of Selfish is over, but are we really ready to tighten our own belts, reset our own priorities and change our own lifestyles for the long term?

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