Hard times. What would Forrest Gump do?

He may be the last person highly educated Seattleites would turn to, but he had excellent lessons for coping with a deep recession.
Crosscut archive image.

A child asleep in a box, Seattle Hooverville, 1933

He may be the last person highly educated Seattleites would turn to, but he had excellent lessons for coping with a deep recession.

Forrest Gump, the movie, illustrated that life is like a box of chocolates. Gump'ꀙs message is that sometimes life gives you a cherry in the chocolate you selected, and sometimes you pick the chocolate whose center has a broken walnut shell.

When his world fell apart Gump didn'ꀙt call city hall, dial 911, create a blog of his troubles, twitter his friends, seek religious guidance or sign up for welfare. Instead he went on a long walkabout, a journey that taught him there were all kinds of people out there, some worse off than he was. When large groups of people followed him as he walked, he never seemed to grasp that those who followed him thought he knew where he was going. (We have a bad habit of following folks we think know where they are going, but don'ꀙt.)

How come we seem unable to make decisions or choices like Gump? We ridicule his simplicity, yet instinctively he made better choices than many of us who think we are smarter, more sophisticated, and better educated. Was Gump just lucky when he reached for a chocolate or did he possess some gift of common sense taught by his loving mother, the culture, or the era he grew up in?

If Gump'ꀙs movie life was a parable, what might the progressive, well-educated, hip Seattleite learn from it? Gump in his simplicity seemed to be saying not to expect too much and make do with the cards life dealt you. Should our 2009 recession turn into anything like the great depression of the 30's, would we or Gump be better at survival?

Back in the 30'ꀙs more people knew how to grow their own food, and preserve it. They raised chickens for eggs and meat and knew how to kill and dress out a chicken for the pot. They could bake bread, make candles, even soap. There were more horses, streetcars, buses, and willingness to walk than now. Much of the nation could keep moderately warm without electricity to run furnaces or cook the food. People of that generation didn'ꀙt ask for housing. They built their own shacks if necessary, lived in barns, with relatives, or rooming houses because it was expedient. Now government won'ꀙt let you build a shack, live in a barn or camp out.

We can'ꀙt heat or cook with wood because burning it is bad for the environment; and besides we have cut most of the trees and we don'ꀙt have cookstoves or fireplaces. We can'ꀙt raise our food like Gump might have. There isn'ꀙt enough open earth or sunlight left in dense Seattle to grow enough to feed a city. Those lucky enough to have a job may not be able to get to work because the public transportation routes we have (or are planned) seldom go anywhere close to where we work.

While we are much better educated than Gump, we may not be smarter — at least not in surviving with less. We never learned how to lead Gump'ꀙs simpler life. We have too many expectations that government will house us, feed us and give us jobs.

Gump knew better. In one situation after another Gump just kept plugging along, not expecting someone to bail him out. He was, it seems, a model of the American spirit. A guy who did his best with what life dealt him. If life in Seattle should get really bad remember Gump. He had hope. Hope was his drug of choice. The next chocolate just might have the cherry.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors