Financial Anger: A Plea For Kindness During The Economic Crisis

I hang out on a lot of finance/frugality related message forums and websites and I’m noticing a disturbing rise in the number of people being mean to those who ask for help. There have always been people who get their shorts in a wad over this or that hot button issue; that’s nothing new. And not every posting is always happy, happy, joy, joy. But these boards used to be a place where people were generally civil and helpful. Since the economy has gone south, I see a lot more anger and venom on these boards than I used to. It’s like the gloves have come off and people are feeling much freer to rip into someone for their bad choices.

I thought about why this should be and I came up with this: I think that a lot of people are furious right now. They are angry at the banks for making bad loans. They’re angry at the government for not fixing the problems or trying to fix the problems, depending on the particular political bent. They’re angry at individuals for making bad choices and racking up debt they can’t pay, which costs everyone. They’re angry about tax increases and real estate devaluation. I get it. I’m one of the angry people. And I think that this anger is coming out on the message forums, which is helpful to no one.

When someone posts that they are in trouble financially, more and more people are unloading on that poor person about how they screwed up and blaming them for everything from the housing crash to the credit card companies acting like bozos. The posts are also coated in a layer of self righteousness that goes along the lines of, “My choices are so superior to yours. It’s no wonder you’re in trouble because you can’t be as perfect as me.” The problem is, all this venting and self-righteous chest thumping is not helping anything. If anything, it’s making things worse.

Why worse? Think about this. What if you were in trouble and needed answers? You want to know how to get out of the mess you’re in and you need a crash course. You turn to a highly recommended message board and ask for help. Some people are helpful, but others jump on you and blame you for everything that’s wrong in the world. Then they turn around and tell you that you’re basically stupid, have no self control and that, “You made your bed, now lie in it.” Would you be likely to continue on your financial journey and work on getting things under control, or would you say, “Forget this,” and go on with your financially destructive ways? Unless you’re highly disciplined and self-motivated, you’d probably choose the latter course.

I understand being mad about the way things are. Heck, half the time I turn on CNBC and you can watch the steam come out of my ears. I do get angry when I see people and companies making stupid choices that are going to cost me money in the long run. But we have to move forward from here. The damage is done. I think it’s a good thing that some people are looking to clean up their personal share of the damage and make things better. They need help and reassurance, not blame and hatred. Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for tough love. Sometimes people don’t see where they’ve gone wrong until you put it right in their face, in bald terms. But there is a difference between tough love and outright meanness. It’s okay to point out, in a constructive manner, where someone has gone wrong and offer suggestions for how to fix things. But to call them names, to dredge up all of their past mistakes and beat them with them, to tell them that they wouldn’t be in this mess if they were as perfect as you, or to accuse them of something that’s not wholly their fault is wrong and destructive.

Just because you or I have led a good financial life does not give us cause to lord our good choices over others. Maybe others haven’t had the education we did, or the “lucky breaks,” or the financial role models that we had. Or maybe they did and none of it “stuck” until the poop hit the fan in their personal financial world. Whatever the reason for their mistakes, it’s not up to us to judge what they did with their money. We can’t know the full circumstances behind their problems and choices and, even if we did, we need to remember that none of us are immune from screw ups. We all screw up from time to time and none of us are perfect. It is up to us to help them do better in the future.

Those of use who frequent and post on message boards can’t fix everything. We can’t change what the government does, and we can’t stop companies from throwing lavish parties with our bailout money. But we can change how individuals respond to this economic meltdown. We can be compassionate and helpful to those who are struggling. We can be educators and work change people’s actions for the future so we don’t end up in this mess again. So, please. If you see a post from someone looking for help, check the impulse to unload your anger on them. Go lock yourself in a closet and scream into a pillow. Ask yourself if you would like to be talked to in the manner that you’re about to use. Then come back to the computer and try to answer their questions without anger, judgment, or resentment. We’ll all be better off.

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25 Responses to Financial Anger: A Plea For Kindness During The Economic Crisis

  1. Neal Frankle says:

    This is important and something I had not thought about.

    When I read about someone in trouble lately, the first thought that comes to my head is,”Here comes somebody else I’ll have to bail out”. Of course this is ridiculous – its an emotional response. But this is the reason you are seeing so much anger.
    Fortunately, I haven’t unloaded on anyone and fortunately, you wrote this post so we can all get back to our jobs – which is being of service to others.


  2. justme says:

    ” Maybe others haven

  3. BobV says:

    I think the negativity of the news is also responsible for everyone’s mood. I have seen it at work, at church, and throughout my social interactions. When you are exposed to so much negative news and information, it changes your whole lookout on things. Trying, as I am, to look at some of the brighter news and staying positive, is the way to cope…. but not easy in this day and age of instant and continuous news.

  4. Broken Arrow says:

    Has SavingAdvice been like that, or is this mostly elsewhere?

    For what it’s worth, I thought SA has has been fairly civil. Like yourself, I’ve seen a lot worse.

  5. AnnJo says:

    Although I’ve tried to be civil about it, I’m probably guilty of “unloading” on some people – especially those who come on personal finance blogs for advice on how to walk away from debts they COULD pay, but don’t want to.

    There’s a real difference, in my mind, between someone who bought a house with 20% down and well within their means, only to lose their job and also find they are underwater on their house. Their options are few. But people who want to walk away from their homes and debts even though they are still earning a more than adequate income to service the debt, just because they can no longer look forward to making a killing on their house’s appreciation – yes, I confess that steams me!

    As for feeling superior, I’ve lived through several recessions, and long enough to know that a lot of what seems like wise planning is really just dumb luck or some lesser trait. I know I “overextended” somewhat on every house I bought, but was lucky to buy and sell at the right times and timid enough not to keep pulling equity out of them.

  6. ceejay74 says:

    Amen! I myself get no joy out of beating up people less fortunate, less together or less educated (financially or otherwise) than myself. But I see a lot of grim, self-righteous pleasure taken in insulting, demeaning and verbally abusing people on the message boards. Yep, even on SA from time to time, that blunt tough love just devolves into judgmental hatefulness.

    I’d love to see a return to civility, but people who have never screwed up, or haven’t in a while, feel perfectly justified. I just hope the people who give up on the boards do seek help somewhere in their lives, because it can be so hurtful that people just disappear from the message boards.

  7. justme says:

    #5 LOL another one who is more educated LOL

  8. ceejay74 says:

    Thank you, justme, you make a wonderful illustration of the point of this article.

  9. justme says:

    LOL yes it is

    but it is really really irritating that peopel look down on others when they believe they are more educated,that is not too nice.

    its just a pet peeve of mine that everyone walks around thinking they are so educated LOL and they must always mention that they think they are LOL
    I think that drives away many from the boards

  10. justme says:

    LOl I apolagize I was feeling passive agressive 😉
    you can all be as smart as you wanta be and I will be nice 😉

  11. Hilary says:

    I have to agree with #2 that the quotes around the “lucky breaks” was a bit below the belt. Aren’t you just saying that you don’t think there are lucky breaks? So aren’t you telling people in financial trouble that they themselves are the source of all their problems? May not be as straightforward, but a bit mean none the less.

  12. Joan says:

    Huh? I thought #5 above was being humble in admitting that stuff working out for her in the past was not due to her own smarts, but to luck in timing plus timidity about taking any equity loans.

  13. Sarah Johns says:

    Good post. I agree with you Jennifer. Economic crisis make people mad

  14. baselle says:

    Its a shame that some of us are on our high horse – if you managed to stay in a good financial position, you did in part because you made good choices, but you are in some small part also because the economy was hot at the time. I’m in reasonable shape because two family members managed to die during the heights of real estate and stock markets. In a small sense, we took advantage of others’ bad choices.

  15. Diane says:

    These are difficult times and many of us are frustrated – I know I get steamed & tell my boyfriend how unfair this all is.

    I’ve made my share of mistakes & paid for them – which took years of work. So I’m not berating anyone for their mistakes. I’m willing to help anyone who is trying to solve their own problems.

    I guess I do have a problem with expecting someone else to bail you out.

    That said, I try to be civil & helpful & most of the messages I’ve read across the personal finance boards have been helpful. I’ve really not seen much negativity.

    I am trying to stay positive and be thankful for my blessings, but it is true that the constant barrage of negative news is difficult to overcome.

  16. Sherry says:

    Great post. Its so easy to judge someone else and people are fed up at having to pay for the mistakes those above them have made. They are not able to strike back at the ones who are really responsible for the problems of the economy, so it comes out in other venues.

    Following my divorce, I was one of those looking for help. The fact was that since I was the partner that had the credit rating, I was the one that was stuck with the debt. I wasn’t looking for a bail out, just a way to pay it back and still feed my kids.

    I was lucky, my creditors agreed to stop charging interest and a do-able repayment plan for the principle. Not everyone is looking for a handout, some just need a helping hand.

  17. flash says:

    Well, no matter which side of the argument you fall on, it’s a great discussion. You can be upset without being rude or ask for help without being defensive. It’s a great place for helping each other move forward through these times and understand many points of view.

  18. I think the number of people in the frugal living forum has increased quite a bit with the recession and all, overcrowding leads to less tolerance.

  19. China Brooks says:

    This is great. Thank you.

  20. During a recession, you can make bad financial decisions left and right and still be fine as long as you still have your job. You can also make good financial decisions left and right, but if you don’t have any money coming in, eventually your money is going to run out no matter how many coupons you use at the grocery store. It’s really ridiculous to judge people online when we know so little of their whole stories.

  21. Pingback: Why We Should Judge People By Their Finances - Blog

  22. Pingback: Monroe on a Budget » Money blog reads of the week

  23. ThiNg says:

    It’s up to the rest of us patient folks to chastise the angry ones. There’s always bad or angry posters, but in ‘normal’ times, other posters will not tolerate their berating posts.

    I catch myself doing it. I see a plea for help (an obviously self-imposed situation) and then 2 or 3 angry or aggressive posts, and then I think “They have every right to be angry”, so I say nothing.

    It’s like bullying, it can only happen as long as people remain quiet about it when it happens. Thanks for the wake up call!!

  24. We need more good hearted people,my husband and I are disabled,we have been praying for a car,we are on disability cant afford one,the one we have is unsafe to drive its not going to last much longer.How do we get to doctors?go pick up prescriptions etc.My husband cant afford to pay for his heart medicine even with medicare WE ARE DESPERATE we are on social security disability very limited income,we have no money down for a car,what about the payments?This is the GODS honest truth we havent even been able to get to church.
    Someone PLEEEASE give us some advice (Sandy Roemer)

  25. Chris ... says:

    I realize this is an old article but I did relate to the message … and the comments. It is easeir to get mean with folks online when you can’t see or know the whole situation. I’ve been lucky! Even though I lost my job over a year ago and haven’t been able to find another one, I’ve made the best of getting to spend the additional time with my kids. Now that things are getting more desperate I find that I can’t even get work as a part-time cashier during the holidays. Life can be funny/strange when so many are hurting and others feel the pressure of government trying to help so many and knowing that somehow it will have to be paid for (by those still working).

    Thank you kindly…

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