Monthly Archives: September 2020

Off Balance but Still Standing

This is the weirdest autumn ever.  Everything feels off balance.

The covid-19 pandemic continues to kill people with no relief in sight.  Our economy is teetering on the edge of recession due to the knock-on effects of the pandemic, like job losses and slowing demand.  The economic blows are made worse by protectionist politicians who ignore what is good for the average consumer in order to protect monopolistic industries run by big campaign donors.

We have a new class war brewing as our society splits between those who can work from home and those who can’t.  The ones who can’t are mostly blue collar workers who are paid less and have fewer employee benefits.   Blue collar workers are also less likely to have options for ensuring their children will keep up with their schooling. Parents who are struggling with fears of layoffs don’t have energy to try to help their kids solve math problems.

As if a pandemic isn’t bad enough, our political lives have fractured due to the ugliest electoral season since 1968 and 1860.  In 1968, race riots caused by racial injustices and protests against the Vietnam War turned most major cities into mini-war zones.  In 1860, half the country was ready to secede and fight a civil war to keep the institution of slavery.  Then as now, self-serving political and religious demagogues got their 15 minutes of fame by exploiting the situation.

But this is the point when I realize that not everything is doom and gloom.  The political violence of 1968 and 1860 can’t happen again in our country.  Today, hardly anyone supports the notion of seceding or going to war to protect racial purity and racial inequities.  Unlike 1968, today people of all races, ethnicities and ages are marching demanding a fairer social bargain for everyone.

Eventually, there will be a vaccine to beat back the threat of covid-19.  That vaccine will be created faster than any other vaccine has ever been thanks to advances in bio-medical research in recent years.

There are also signs that the economy is adjusting to the new ways of doing business. Some old business models will fail and be replaced by new models.  That’s what capitalism calls creative destruction.

We’ll adapt even as we carry the psychological scars of the pandemic and its economic destruction.  Everything feels off balance but we’re still standing.

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Norma Shirk is an author, speaker, business owner and an attorney. In 2011, she founded Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, LLC (, a human resources consulting firm for small employers.

She writes a weekly blog that alternates between human resources issues ( and history (History by Norma,  She is also a founder and monthly contributor to the Her Savvy blog,   In 2018, she published, Psycho Bosses and Obnoxious Co-Workers, an amusing look at workplace behavior.

Ms. Shirk frequently speaks to a variety of audiences on topics ranging from human resources issues to historical events and persons.  She may be contacted at

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The Despair of Poverty

Imagine climbing a mountain with no helmet, no harness and no pitons or belaying ropes to keep you safe.  You constantly slide back because there’s no support to help you succeed.  You keep trying, one attempt after another, until you are physically and emotionally exhausted.  Then despair overwhelms you and you give up.

That’s what it’s like to be poor in America.  Poor people don’t choose to be poor. They are born into poverty and our social welfare programs are designed to ensure they never have the tools to climb the mountain and escape poverty.

Public assistance (“welfare”) programs like Medicaid, Food Stamps and public housing are based on household income.  The income assessment is done monthly and there’s no leeway.  Either you’re below the dollar limit for eligibility or you’re not. You’re not allowed to build up a nest egg, the pitons that could save you from falling.  Getting a job means losing all support and you’ll plummet down the mountain.

Of course, most poor people are too wealthy to qualify for public assistance even though their low paying jobs don’t cover the rent and the light bill, let alone food and school fees. Every day they must decide whether to buy gas for the car to get to their job or buy food.  They can’t do both.

Their kids go to school in clothes bought at a thrift shop or donated by a charity. Other kids mercilessly “tease” them for their shabby clothes and cheap sneakers. Poor kids live every day with emotional stress that would flatten an able-bodied adult.  They are beaten down by the despair of knowing they have no climbing gear to take them up the mountain.

Every time a poor family gets two nickels, a dollar’s worth of bills pop up.  The car breaks down.  The landlord raises the rent.  The unpaid balance on the electric bill plus the “restoration” fee wipes out a month’s pay.  You’re banging your head on rocks as you fall down the mountain.

Then a family member gets sick.  Poor people either can’t afford to buy health insurance or the co-pays, deductibles and coinsurance guarantee there’s no way to pay the hospital and doctor bills.  A collection agency relentlessly pursues payment before a person is healthy.  The now utterly exhausted poor person gives up.

When poverty intersects with American culture, the results are rotten for the poor.  We’re taught that people can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps if they’d only try harder.  Our Protestant tradition encourages us to blame poor people for being poor as if poverty is a punishment from God.

Yes, poor people often make bad decisions. But so do better-off people. The difference is that better off people have helmets, harnesses, pitons and belaying ropes from birth in the form of family and friends who save them from falling down the mountain.  When we blame the poor for their poverty, we ignore the barriers blocking their climb and we accept the despair of poverty.


About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of human resources, see the HR Compliance Jungle ( which alternates on Wednesday mornings with my history blog, History By Norma, (available at To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (

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The Other Side of the Couch – The Land of Present Time

What a time we are in, my friends – what a time!  Surely this moment in history is one that will be dissected and studied and torn apart and rehashed again and again in years to come – and yet here we are, living it day to day.  Who could have known that we would still be separated when the pandemic began to affect all of our lives in March – now it is six months later, and we do not know how long we will need to continue with the new behaviors that are required to maintain our own health and the health of others  – masks, social distancing, hand washing being the activities that are proven to result in protection.

I know this has been tremendously hard for many of us – I would venture to say for all of us – for different reasons.  For some it is the pain of living alone, for some it is the terror of getting this virus, for some it is the loss of face-to-face church, for some it is the loss of being with children and grandchildren.  For some it has been the loss of the ability to earn a living, for some it has been the loss of the joyful experience of making music together.  I am sure that each one of you can identify a personal impact that COVID-19 has had on your day-to-day life.

The response many of us have to all this is to worry.  We worry about what may happen tomorrow; we fret over what could happen, might happen, won’t happen, will happen – we spend so much time and energy on events THAT MAY NEVER HAPPEN.

We have three possible ways to address time.  Some of us spend way too much time in the land of If Only – – if only I had done that, or not done this – maybe things would be different now.  Some of us spend way too much time in the land of What If – this or that might happen or not happen.  We fret about the future – a future that does not exist!

The place that we are in now – the Land of Now, of Present Time – is the only time that we have.  Surely we know that we are not guaranteed another day of life – and that we can never reclaim time that is past.

I invite you to take a breath, right now – to look around.  Celebrate this moment.  We are here.  We are connecting in spite of the distance imposed by the circumstances of the pandemic.  Notice what your eyes can see, what your ears can hear.  We are here together, now, with the amazing opportunity through technology of being present together in spite of the physical distance many of us are living.  I, for one, am more than grateful.

About Susan Hammonds-White, EdD, LPC/MHSP

Communications and relationship specialist, counselor, Imago Relationship Therapist, businesswoman, mother, proud native Nashvillian – in private practice for 30+ years. I have the privilege of helping to mend broken hearts. Contact me at

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If it’s Tuesday, it Must be…

Photo by Leah Kelley on

When I was a kid, my dad used to love to take us all to the drive-in movies. There was one that stands out called, “If it’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium.” I don’t remember the details, but it had something to do with tourists running all over Europe, different cities, different days, until they lost track of time. The film title became our family’s code for describing that feeling of being disoriented or off kilter. That’s exactly how I feel! This week, I’ve been at least one, if not two, days off, and I missed my deadline for this blog post. If it’s COVID, this must be…who even knows what day it is anymore?

Okay, so here it is, Thursday…again. I think this weekend is the Labor Day holiday? Yes, I’m sure it is. I’m just not sure where summer went. I’ve experienced most of it from inside my house, which means it feels the same as Spring and most likely Fall will feel the same. I guess I’ll need to change my wardrobe just to keep track of the passing of time. If it’s Tuesday, it must be…

Last month I shared my Whole30 journey. I’m happy to report I’m still on the journey. I’ve learned more about how my body experiences different foods. So far, I do well with most food groups. I have noticed that alcohol consumption affects my sleep, so I can decide if that glass of wine at dinner is worth losing some sleep over. My cravings for sweets and snacks have mostly disappeared, although some days I just need a little something in between meals, especially if I haven’t eaten enough protein. Overall, some good lessons and some new, healthier, habits are being formed.

In a little over a week, my middle son will come for a visit. We haven’t seen him since mid-February and while I’m very excited, I’m also a bit nervous and apprehensive about the health risk – for all of us. Crazy times. What used to be a routine trip now feels like a treacherous journey. If it’s Tuesday, it must be…

And to add to the fun the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, is just around the corner. This year our congregation will hold services virtually with a combination of pre-recorded segments and live streaming from the synagogue where the Rabbi and Cantor will be present in the sanctuary. Disorienting? You bet! Bittersweet? Yep! There is so much to miss this year, most important for me is the feeling of being in my community, physically present together to usher in a new year (yes, we Jews get to celebrate the New Year twice). Yes, I’m grateful to be healthy and to be with my family. But this thing, this plague, started just before the Spring holiday of Passover and here we still are. If it’s Tuesday, it must be…

So, I’ll just close with a traditional Jewish New Year’s blessing and wish everyone a Happy, Healthy, Sweet New Year (whether you observe or not, what the heck!). Here’s hoping next month I’ll know what day it is…

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the Editor of The Jewish Observer of Nashville, and a former small business owner.  Barbara loves writing, telling stories of real people and real events and most of all, talking to people all over the world.  The Jewish Observer newspaper can be read online at .

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