I’ve been reading over the interviews that I’m publishing in my upcoming e-book and am once again amazed at how sensitive the subject of the meltdown is for many people. When I was looking for people to interview it struck me how difficult it was for some Icelanders to talk about what had happened here. A number of people – in fact, about as many as finally did speak with me – turned me down. Some at the last minute, and without a proper explanation.
The rawness of the situation is also evident in some of the interviews I did take. For example, one gentleman was extremely angry, and I had the feeling this anger masked something else — grief, perhaps, or a deep sense of betrayal. Conversely, some of the interviewees remarked after our session that it had felt really good to talk about their feelings surrounding the collapse, which I found very rewarding.
The most sensitive nerve has to be the one that runs through the banking sector. For a regular worker in a bank, the collapse of that bank and all the associated corruption and possible criminality that surfaced has been enormously difficult to take. In many cases those people have to work alongside colleagues that are implicated in very serious matters, and who may even be under investigation. Outwardly they have have to deal with people who have lost everything, who desperately need money but can’t obtain any, or who are — or were — furiously angry and have taken out their frustrations on anyone at the bank who happened to be in the line of fire. I know of people working in the banks who almost buckled under pressure in those first weeks and months after the meltdown, and who needed trauma counselling.
And then there was the vague sense of guilt that lingered, and the nagging question of whether they should have behaved any differently. As Kristín Jóna, a portfolio manager who agreed to be interviewed for the book, put it:
It’s hard to describe exactly what happens inside of you. I didn’t feel guilty, exactly, but I kept asking myself whether I perhaps should have seen it coming a lot sooner … I think many of us were left with this vague feeling of responsibility and a sense that we possibly could have done something differently.
That vague sense of guilt and even shame seems to linger with a lot of people — even when they did nothing to warrant it. For example, there are a lot of people who feel a great deal of shame at being unemployed, even though the cause of their unemployment has nothing to do with them. Someone explained to me the other day that it’s like a throwback to the past, when being unemployed in Iceland meant that there was something wrong with you. There was always plenty of work to go around, so if you didn’t have a job it had to mean there was some kind of personal problem. Today, of course, circumstances are completely different, but that old shame lingers.
And on a completely different note: I want to give a big shout-out to the people at Visit Reykjavík, who have recognized the value of this site in promoting Iceland and have decided to come on board as sponsors. Yay! I hope you will reward them with lots of traffic — after all, they are THE authority on events and activities in the capital area.