Tag: downsized


Remember that commencement speaker in Massachusetts? He told graduating students, “None of you is special. You are not special. You are not exceptional.”

The internet was ablaze with comments, most of them positively gleeful. Many people believe that the speaker revealed harsh truths and deflated the younger generation’s supersized egos.

Of course, a lot of the adults who cheered the speech are unhappy with how their own lives turned out, which is why they got off on a guy sticking it to a captive audience of teenagers. In any case, the graduates who most needed to hear such a message (i.e., the arrogant, haughty ones) are the kids most likely to dismiss it. When he was done, they flipped open their cell phones and said, “Some bitter old man tried to step on our day. Whatever, loser.”

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Prepare for Impact

It wasn’t happy hour. It was more like unhappy hour, and it was held at a bar near my former place of employment. At the end of this going-away party for all of us who had just been downsized (see my earlier post on this), the time came to say goodbye to my former colleagues, make sincere but doomed promises to stay in touch, and exchange final hugs.

Actually, I pretty much had to skip that last one.

You see, I live in the Midwest, and most of my ex-coworkers are born-and-bred white middle Americans. As such, they are as comfortable with the idea of hugging as China is with dissent.

One of my friends, a woman I had worked with for years, announced beforehand that she rarely hugged her family members and never her friends, so I would have to settle for a handshake. Her preemptive strike was because she knew my propensity to embrace people.

It’s not that I’m touchy-feely. Indeed, I’ve been accused of being reserved, aloof, and even insensitive. On any given personality test, I always come back as introverted and quiet (not shy; there’s a difference). Bubbly and outgoing are among the last adjectives one would use to describe me.

So where does all this hugging come from? You guessed it: the Latino gene.

Hispanics hug out of instinct. We hug loved ones and acquaintances. We hug when saying hello or goodbye. We hug when overjoyed and when offering condolences. And yes, we will even hug you.

The cultural reasons for this are unknown to me. But it’s a very real phenomenon. Suffice to say, we’re perplexed at white America’s reticence and (I’ll just say it) uptight attitude about being touched.

This can lead to painful interactions, which I have witnessed at times, where the white person sticks out a hand, and the Hispanic person looks at it as if mystified at what to do with the offending object. Depending on the relationship and the setting, you may as well spit in a Latino’s face if a handshake is the best you can offer.

Even my wife, of fine German-Irish stock, was thrown off by my tendency to wrap my arms around people. I hugged her once when we were still in the “just friends” stage of our relationship, and she figured I was up to something… ok, she was right about that one. But that’s not usually the case.

The point is that my wife, who is extroverted and expressive, was confused by my behavior. These days, of course, she reciprocates the bone-crushing clasps that my family dishes out as greetings. It’s what we do.

And on a larger level, and at the risk of getting all New Agey, isn’t this the exact right time to hug? With a collapsing economy and nonstop wars going on, I would think more Americans would appreciate a comforting embrace.

But in fact, just the opposite is true. Over the last few years, for example, several public schools have tried to ban hugging among students. It’s supposedly to decrease the odds of a physical confrontation. The irony, of course, is that a hug is the least threatening gesture that one can make. Such policies are clearly more about America’s sex-phobia and the discomfort that adults feel whenever they see teenagers touching each other. But that’s another post.

What it all means is that at some point, every American has to decide if he or she is going to follow the example of Hispanics (who, as I’ve stated many times before, are clearly taking over the country) or withdraw into a cold world where the nearest one gets to being touched is receiving an extra emoticon on the latest text message.

In any case, if you’re meeting a Latino for the first time, remember that we’re ok with a handshake for the initial encounter. After that, however, it has to be a business meeting or similarly inappropriate setting to keep us from wrapping you up.

Either that, or we really don’t like you. 

Did I Jinx Myself?

In my most recent post, I wrote that the economic collapse has hit Latinos particularly hard. This pain is not confined to day laborers and construction workers (although they are hurting more than others), but also extends to those Hispanics who have ventured into the white-collar world… like your most humble blogger.

Yes, recently I was laid off from my day job. Thus, the Fanatic has joined the 8.1% of Americans, and 11% of Latino males, who have said adios to regular paychecks. My company, hereafter referred to as “the ex-job,” canned four other people the same day. For the conspiratorial among you, let me be quick to point out that my fellow downsizees are all white. They include a woman who devoted twenty years to the organization and another who is a single mom.

I was surprised to get the news, of course, but not shocked. The ex-job is struggling, and if the economy doesn’t stop hemorrhaging, I fear that the thirty or so people who still work there will be joining me in the nation’s cool new fad of updating resumes and emailing LinkedIn requests.

At the same time, I would be lying if I said that I don’t harbor some hostility toward the ex-job. I worked six years as a business writer for them, and it’s impossible to not feel like a sap when your boss says, “Your performance has been excellent, thanks for your great work and loyalty, and now… bye.”

One reason for my WTF reaction is that despite the very real fact that it is a business decision, there is also a personal judgment being made: You (the freshly unemployed) have been determined to be less valuable to the company than those who remain. You are more expendable.

Since my number came up in the great economic-misadventure lottery, I haven’t been depressed or even worried (my wife and I are in better financial shape than many people in a similar situation). But there are still bursts of anger, which I’ve always thought is the most productive of the negative emotions.

Nothing sets off this anger more than the banal clichés thrust at me by well-meaning friends. In the past few weeks, I’ve learned that it’s always darkest before the dawn, that what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger, that there’s a reason for everything, and that God never gives us more than we can handle. By the way, I find this latter statement theologically dubious – people who commit suicide, for example, obviously got a lot more than they could handle. But speaking of the Almighty, I’ve also heard that when God closes a door, he opens a window. If you’ve just been blindsided with a layoff, however, you don’t feel like God has been messing around with doors and windows. You think that he just dynamited your house.

Still, I remain optimistic about the future – not just for me but for all of us. Common sense, the laws of economics, and basic karma all say that we’ll pull out of this financial freefall soon.

Perhaps the Obama plan will be the answer. At the very least, maybe the stimulus package will help me land a construction job. I hesitate to look into this, however, not because I’m too good or genteel for blue-collar labor, but because I was really looking forward to continuing Hispanic America’s infiltration into the white-collar world. Also, I’m much better with words than I am with a backhoe. Trust me on this.

So until I land that next office gig, I will be sharpening skills, hustling for freelance gigs, and networking like an overly caffeinated, extroverted state senator up for reelection. And of course, I will remain thoroughly and completely fanatical.

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