Photo illustration by Denise Baker

I have a family friend named Jim whom I’ve known my entire life. Jim is a brilliant, but difficult, person who inherited a little money in the mid ’80s and invested it wisely so, while not rich, he’s never had to work again.

A couple of weeks ago I called him for advice regarding some cash I have in a savings account. It’s only a small amount, but knowing that it’s sitting there earning virtually nothing makes me feel silly every time I look at the balance.

There are a few stocks I’ve been watching, and I ran some of the names by Jim to see what he thought.

“Stay away from the market!” he said in a tone that sounded as if I had just plunged my hand into a vat of boiling oil. “Everything will drop again,” he continued, “but more importantly, our government will soon make it impossible to earn money. Don’t buy stocks.”

I asked a number of questions about what he suggested I do, but rather than provide answers, Jim talked for 45 minutes about the death of America and the ruin of our economy. I tried to bring up bright spots, but he wasn’t having any of it, instead insisting that our freedom was gone and nothing could be done.

“OK then,” I finally said, exhausted and frustrated. “I’ll just leave the money in my savings account. And if everything is as terrible and hopeless as you say, then there’s nothing I can do. I’m going to enjoy this beautiful afternoon sitting in my backyard.”

“Enjoy it while you can,” he answered. “Soon the government will take away all of our property.”

I listened for a few more minutes and then told him I had to get off the phone. Jim’s negativity was an almost palpable force that had sucked the joy right out of my day. I felt poisoned.

Over the next week I thought a lot about that conversation. Clearly, Jim wanted me to agree with him, but the sheer force of his rant shut me out. Had he approached it differently, he might have found that we share some common ground. But his scared, angry spirit required that I merely submit.

These are tough times for all of us. But these are also the times when we need to listen especially closely to others and find common bonds. Regardless of where you think the country is going, these are the times when we need to reach out to our neighbor and say, “What can I do for you?”

Our future depends on it.