The Crippling Guilt of Not Caring About the Economy

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What's going in this surely important picture? Sometimes you just don't care. Photo: Getty Images

I have a major problem. I cannot focus on this boring-ass, abstruse news about the economy — Geithner and AIG and toxic whatever. "So fine," you say, "ignore it." But I just can't do that. I'm a journalist, damn it, even if half the time I feel mostly like a hack and a perv on the job. It's my responsibility to have at least a passing interest and knowledge in all topics, and if I don't, I'm racked with guilt. But the Big National Story, which I should certainly care about, at least out of professional obligation, is How to Fix the Economy, and I can't focus, even after putting months of thought into this new administration, which we voted for to fix this whole mess. Just as Nora Ephron feels bad about her neck, I feel bad about my boredom — and I suspect I'm not alone.

So I decided to seek professional help and ask the experts how to work past my crushing guilt.

1. MY TOO-LAID-BACK EX-THERAPIST.
Jim Beers is a nice guy who serves his patients water in glasses from a glass pitcher, then hides the used glasses under his desk until the end of the day. Jim declined to validate my guilt over being bored by the economy. "My first thought is that you should not be paying attention to it," he said. "It's way too much information. And there's nothing you can do." The most he could suggest was that I "take the information in slowly." But then he acknowledged that I should just learn what I could, because I wasn't going to be able to let go of my guilt. "You can't do that," he said. "You always need something to worry about. That's the way you are." If you think that’s harsh, it’s nothing compared to the time Jim called me Eeyore. That got me so mad I cried. But it was a big breakthrough.

2. THE MEDIA-SAVVY WALL STREET THERAPIST.
I decided to find someone who catered to the Wall Street crowd. Jonathan Alpert is one of them — he is "the media's go-to guy for psychoanalyzing the city." How should I feel about my guilt? I asked him. "Do you not care about the economy because you don't understand," he asked me, "or do you not care because it doesn't affect you?" More like, I don’t care because it’s all so boring that it makes my teeth ache. "Maybe there's a part of you that's overwhelmed by it all," he suggested gently. "I think you might feel better if you tried to gain some understanding," he told me, which is basically what I wanted to hear. "Instead of seeing a big, bad, evil economy headline, you can be like, 'Oh, we're getting a new tax code or budget or whatever, I wonder what it's all about?'" I had to laugh picturing myself having that reaction, and I think Alpert could sense that. "Did you ever have a teacher in school who everyone was afraid of, but then you realize that this guy is human and goes to the bathroom like everyone else?" he asked. So I should visualize Tim Geithner going to the bathroom, I guess.

3. THE DEFLATING SHRINK WHO TELLS ME IT'S ALL ABOUT MY FATHER.
Then I called a shrink named Barbara Mautner,simply because her address was actually on Wall Street. I told her my issue. "The economy is an enormous problem, and for you personally to feel a sense of responsibility for solving it is ridiculous." Instantly I was stimulated, as I always am by women who berate or hector me. So what should I do, I asked her, when I saw a Geithner headline and freaked out and shut down? "I would just smile and turn the page," she said. "Why do you have to read it? I wonder if there's a transference element to your relationship to finance. Was your father in it?" Not really, but he’s not very happy that I have virtually no savings or income to speak of. "Any kind of disturbance reaches far in our psyches and our hearts and connects with all sort of inadequacy and guilt," Barbara told me. Oh, jeez. Does boredom really go that deep?

4. THE NOT-VERY-STRICT PRIEST.
I was not finding quite the succor I needed in the psychotherapy sector, so I had to turn back to the Catholic Church (which I’d long ago turned my back on). I called the pastor at Francis Xavier in Chelsea, Father Joe Costantino. Father Joe told me that, surprisingly, nobody had brought up their guilt over their boredom with the economy in confession. "They're more concerned about losing their jobs," he said. I wanted to ask him "WWJD" if he'd been confronted by boring headlines, but a teensy part of me was still scared I'd rot (or just be bored) in hell for being saucy about J.C. with a priest, so instead I asked: Is guilt ever productive? "If it brings repentance over some sin or crime," said the good priest wisely. "If Madoff felt guilty over what he did, that's good." Yeah, but he probably doesn't. But I didn't have the heart to say that to Father Joe, who probably sees the best in everybody.


What did I learn from all of these calls? Basically, I wanted someone to just externalize my inner voice, to say, "You call yourself a journalist, for God's sake, so just suck it up and focus and learn this stuff." But a random sampling of psychological and spiritual counselors did not really care whether I understood the economy, even though it might be important to you, my trusting reader, who turns to me for insight and "The Takeaway." So fine, I will learn it for you. Here is just the kind of headline I'm talking about:

China's Yuan 'Set to Usurp US Dollar' as World's Reserve Currency

Okay, I get that so far. Uh. [Blankness.] So. [Blackness.] Uh, are you ever sitting at work and feel like you might have a "personal movement" coming on, and if you have just one more cup of coffee first, you might prolong that feeling in a pleasant way and achieve really optimum results? Because that's where I am right now, and it's just something I wonder if other people try, and ... oh, that headline. Right.