Naming the Darkness

For many people working in or running their own businesses, recessions are times of “darkness”. The shadow nature of recessions is something of a double-edged sword. Shadows can be places of coolness, out of the strong heat of the sun. But they can also be “shady” places in another sense – a place of hiding, a place where there isn’t enough light to see clearly.

The price we pay for hiding in shadows is that, though we can hide from the gaze of others, we also can’t see as well in those shadows ourselves. Our eyes of course can get accustomed to the gloom, but when we do step out into the light, we squint, and the glare is too great. The paradox of hiding is that we can get too used to it, and, when we come out of hiding, we can be fearful and disoriented.

Recessions, yes – they can be times of darkness. There is no longer plenty of light to go around. It becomes a time to do something we may have forgotten how to do, or even lost belief in completely. It becomes time to generate our own light.

And yet, in dark times, many people retreat further and further into the shadows. When we call something by its real name, face it – no matter how uncomfortable – when we confront it, we are shining a light onto it. We bring light into the darkness.

I remember back in 1992 when the war was still on in Croatia, hotel owners on the coast at Opatija claimed there was no war anywhere near them, that business was booming – even as they stood outside their almost deserted hotels. They were lost in their own shadows, their prices were still boom-time high, and no one was booking. They were in the darkness of denial. If one of them had shined a light on the situation and said “hey, we’re in trouble here”, they may have finally faced up to the situation. The war wasn’t THAT near and the roads from Slovenia (an easy route from Italy) were safe enough, and dropping prices would have led to a big jump in demand. I believe they could even have had a mini-boom. But they stayed in the shadows.

In the UK, many restaurant owners are caught like rabbits in the headlights of their own portion-controlled, boom time pricing strategies, and are half empty. The “credit crunch lunch” offers of three pounds for a lunch in the smaller local restaurants ensure those places are full and still making profits in hard times. These smaller businesses have had the courage to step out of the collusive shadows and named their situation. “It’s a recession”. The almost superstitious notion that “if you talk it down then it will go down” only even possibly works if things are still up. But when we are in tough times, naming it as tough throws light into a dark situation. We use our real eyes to realise.

The power of “Positive thinking” lies, not in deluding ourselves with fake positive talk, but by taking an authentically positive approach to challenges. And if things are really bad, then naming them as really bad is also the place from which we can start the long climb back up. We may be too far down and lost in the very, very, dark of the bottom of the pit, but it is also in those places of despair that a little light can start to work wonders and show us there is a bottom rung of the ladder, just over there, within our reach. We can also name it earlier, before we have fallen so far, we can prevent too much complacency turning quickly into unstoppable decline. Naming something honestly can be very preventive in terms of later disaster.

So, go on, dare to name it. Our business, which only recently, was on the up and up, is struggling. We have less people in our cafe, less people are booking our holidays or buying our products. It’s a recession and we are in it.

Look at it from a place of light. Then, we can act.

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