As I write this, I realise it’s May 1 which makes it Labour Day which rules out any unemployment jokes: none of them work anyway.
Unemployment is not a matter to be facetious about, however. In truth, it is a bitter pill to swallow for it robs a person of self-respect, his dignity and his self-worth.
Trust me, I know what I’m talking about.
By 2004, many of us in the industry knew that things weren’t going swimmingly in the international media. Over the last two years, a number of my colleagues in the Far Eastern Economic Review had been laid-off. Then, our only serious competitor in the region, Asiaweek shuttered and we finally began asking ourselves when the chop was coming.
In my case, I’d been on leave but was still at home, and alone as my wife was abroad. I heard the doorbell ring and was astonished to see my immediate boss outside the gate.
He looked as pale as I was about to look, and tried not to meet my eyes. It wasn’t any lack of work on my part, he assured me, the whole magazine was closing courtesy of the boffins in New York whose number crunching had, apparently, carried the day and sealed a very respectable magazine’s fate.
On hindsight, it wasn’t the money aspect that bothered me. It was a whole lot of other feelings that crawled in and refused to leave: shame, self-loathing and a refusal to leave the house for fear of meeting people.
It was wholly unreasonable, even illogical and I knew it. But try as I might, I couldn’t shake the feeling. But my wife and my daughter were greatly supportive, and, in the end, it all worked out, as life normally does.
Indeed, it took me about two weeks to straighten out my head and I got a job in a Singapore-based publication a month later. The retrenchment benefits didn’t hurt either.
But my point here is that no one deserves to have the emotive fallout of sudden unemployment thrust on him. It can be emotionally crippling.
Or maybe not.
I mean, not everyone reacts that way. Some take it coolly, indeed, so philosophically that it can be downright perplexing.
Take my first driver Hassan. Now there’s self-confidence for you. I mean, it took me about three months to discover that he was illiterate, or as Shakespeare might have said: He aspired to “neither a reader nor a writer be.” With those street-creds, you’d have to wonder how he obtained his driving license.
When I asked him how many previous employers he’d had, he shrugged mathematically as if to suggest its number was a Biblical “Legion” or “X” where “X” was any number greater than 25.
Life, in the world according to Hassan, was a reality teeming with myriad disappointments, one of which was sudden unemployment, which ranked right up there with gout, but wasn’t as bad as, Heaven forbid, impotence.
It was the sort of calm sanguinity and detachment that might have impressed your average enlightened Buddhist monk.
What happened to Hassan, you ask? To answer, allow me to indirectly quote British writer “Saki” H H Munro:
“He was a good driver as drivers go, and as drivers go, he went.”