Dear Ray and Co.
I was looking at the face of my two-week old daughter, watching her practise her new smile – and yes, she was smiling – when I decided to write this letter. As well as a newborn baby, I have a wonderful eight-year old stepson who is relishing being a big brother for the first time. I am self-employed in an industry that is unstable at the best of times, and my wife is a public servant. Between us we are likely to lose at least ten grand from our household income this year, probably more, when we can least afford it. And I know there are many across the country who are much worse off than we are.
So you might be surprised, as I was, to discover that I’m not fearful, or despondent, but inspired. Despite the gloom overshadowing our economy, I truly believe we will come out of this better off than when we went in. Things have been great for me over the past few years, but I’ve also picked up some very bad habits along the way. Between the baby and the recession, I’ve been given a kick up the ass and had to face up to the fact that I’m living a life that is making me stressed, physically lazy, overweight and materialistic. And the things that will help keep me out of this financial slump are the same things that will improve my health and well-being and set a better example for the children. And I can start with the little things.
I love sitting relaxing in a nice café, but I don’t need a coffee with the same calorie count as a dessert. I don’t need a sandwich that costs as much as five loaves of bread when I can make my own, just the way I like it, for a fraction of the cost. Treats could be more rare and special. I don’t always have to meet my friends in some place where I have to buy something in order to sit down. I can stop spending money on things that are made to be thrown away or things that sit unused, cluttering up my home. I can spend a little extra on quality, and on things that are built to last. I can reduce the amount of stuff I have in my life, and with it, a need for expensive storage solutions. I can fix things, rather than throwing them out and replacing them. I can buy Irish. I can make sure businesses work harder to get my money.
I can take more holidays in Ireland, rather than abroad. I can encourage the children to use their initiative and imaginations and even take a few risks to find their own entertainment, rather than paying to have their entertainment brought to them. I can spend more time with them, rather than spending money trying to occupy their time. We can all play outside a bit more.
I can remind myself that I am blessed to be born in this country. Even when times are tough, I live better than the wealthiest people in some other countries. I am guaranteed food and water, shelter, education, healthcare and a reasonable level of justice. My country does not suffer cataclysmic weather, famine or drought. If I disagree with my nation’s leaders, I don’t fear that the police will come in the night, break down my door and drag me away. In my country, a free press can ask awkward questions of people in power.
The citizens here have the power to sack the government if we believe it to be incompetent or corrupt. We have the capacity to make sure our national economy is run as if it were our home, rather than a casino for high rollers.
In the past, our people have endured far more than we could understand, but even today we have the strength of character to thrive in adversity. Most importantly, we have the ability to laugh at ourselves when things get too serious. I love that about Ireland. In the hardest of times, our ancestors made the word ‘Irish’ synonymous with humour, resilience, humanity and sheer bloody-mindness. I think we still have it all in spades, we were just so busy living like celebrities that we forgot.
For me, I think this is an excellent chance to pull myself away from the shallow, addictive and destructive lifestyle we’re always being sold and keep my family afloat into the bargain. And then, maybe, when the kids grow up and moan about the comfortable lives I’ve helped provide, I can scoff smugly and tell them ‘you don’t know how good you have it’.
These are good times, because they’ve driven home to me what’s important, and how best to keep it. Let’s stop spending money like gangster rappers and show our kids how grown-ups are supposed to behave. If we do what’s best for our health, our families, our communities and our environment, then the country – and our culture – will sort itself out. And maybe, just maybe, we won’t get screwed again.
I believe that if we do our cold turkey, if we hold our nerve and live our lives just a little better – a little simpler – this economic storm will be the making of a healthier, wealthier and more mature nation. I have faith in us.