Lessons for the Current Financial Storm, From “Candide”
he last time the stock market crashed like this, in 1987, it was a cold splash of water in my 13-year-old face. Back then, I was Sam Francis: the teen tycoon behind Sam’s Candy, a little candy shop in Bountiful, Utah. It was a jarring first lesson to a kid who’d wind up being a lifelong American entrepreneur. While my candy store was somewhat “recession proof,” my high school years brought constant worry about whether I’d have enough money to go to college. I wondered if the recession would wipe out my fledgling venture altogether. Heavy topics for a 13-year-old. Pretty heady for a 34-year-old, too.
I don’t usually wax esoteric about French philosophy, but my own journey from an idyllic small town into a very Real World filled with unpredictability and danger is not unlike that of Voltaire’s Candide:
Candide, ou l’Optimisme (1759) is a French satire by the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire. It’s the [story of] a young man, Candide, who’s living a sheltered life in an Edenic paradise and being indoctrinated with “optimism” by his tutor, Pangloss. The work describes the abrupt cessation of this existence, followed by Candide’s slow, painful disillusionment as he witnesses and experiences great hardships in the world.
Two of my favorite songs are from Leonard Bernstein’s 1956 operetta version of Candide. The first, Glitter and Be Gay, is one of the most “fiendishly challenging” coloratura soprano arias ever written. The song’s a reminder that no matter how bad it gets, one always has one’s demented sense of humor. It’s a song befitting any Republican heiress, performed here brilliantly by Kristin Chenowith. It will leave you breathless:
The other great song from Candide is Make Our Garden Grow, an expansive duet so evocative of the ideals of the American West, it’s practically a Democrat’s manifesto:
We’re neither pure, nor wise, nor good / We’ll do the best we know.
We’ll build our house and chop our wood / And make our garden grow.
Pretty good advice then, and good advice now.
Isn’t this exactly what we do when times are rough? Tend to our families, chop our wood, try to improve our lot? I’m no pol, but it seems to me that the best thing each of us can do for our country right now is hunker down and get serious about our lives.
So, please vote. And do whatever you have to, but get out of debt. Save where you can. Consider urban homesteading: chop your proverbial wood, fix the things that need fixing, and make your garden grow. Or, if you’re all fed up, just get out already. The choice is up to you: Glitter and be gay, or make your garden grow. Whatever you choose, remember to laugh like hell. It’s still the best medicine.