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The Greek Mirror

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"Greece is like a mirror. It makes you suffer. Then you learn."

"To live alone?"

"To live. With what you are."

The above quote is taken from The Magus by John Fowles, an eminent British author who half a century ago spent some years in Greece. Today, as the economic crisis is shaking our country to its foundations, his words seem more fitting than ever. In these dismal times, when each new austerity measure feels like a black curtain over the sky, the main actors on our political and cultural stage are the IMF, the EU and their economic "support" mechanism, along with the now famous credit rating agencies. Greece does indeed make us suffer.

In our brief adventure on this planet, nothing is a given. And yet we are creatures of habit. We enter a flow, we establish a routine, and we think that what we live is meant to last forever. Even as we grow older, we still take that routine for granted. Until, one fine day, life provides us with a gentle--or not-so-gentle--reminder. Everything suddenly becomes more fluid, more fragile. And we begin, belatedly, begrudgingly, to learn new things, inching closer to our true selves. The question, as Fowles implied, is how many of us will manage to live with what we - really - are.

Since, for decades, the mirror seemed to be reflecting something different, this sudden revelation has come as a shock. Young people find themselves owning vacation homes in the country while holding jobs that pay 600 Euros per month, i.e., their monthly expenses for drinks, gas, and cigarettes. Largely simplifying things, the core of the problem lies in the fact that these vacation homes were built by their parents, using the same EU funds that were meant to create productive jobs for them (while the state looked the other way - winking guiltily prior to every election). "There is a silver lining, however. The vacation home has a DSL line. If you have something original to contribute --music, words, code-- you can now do it with a view of the Aegean. There are no excuses for inaction," says, with a touch of irony, Dimitris Achlioptas, a Computer Science professor at the University of Athens.

To take Fowles' thought one step further, at this point some of us will try to smash the mirror, some will look away or stare at the frame, while others will be taken aback by this new image and will try to find out where the "good-old one" went. We are meant to pass through all the stages of grief: to learn to live with it, accept it and, inevitably, start to act. For those who won't become lost in the glass and manage to face the world around them, there will be new roles, unimaginable just a short while ago. Roles for which the "I"--the ego, in Greek--will not be quite so central anymore.

It is becoming obvious that we are starting to think differently. Collectively. The first realization is that we are not alone. That this is not happening only to us. Many are in a much more difficult state. Almost every single one of our friends or acquaintances is going through the crucible.

A strange new thing is beginning to take shape, a new sense of "togetherness" - a unity of purpose that did not exist previously. We 're beginning to go out more, to visit friends, to listen, to propose new ideas. Kyriakos Pierrakakis, Chairman of Greece's Institute for Youth, encapsulates the feeling: "The times are truly difficult - but without diminishing the vast social costs of decreasing wages, increasing unemployment and lagging growth - a crisis is perhaps the best opportunity for my generation to summon a new spirit: to identify with solutions instead of problems, with action instead of complaints, with purpose instead of compromise."

It's central that this sense of togetherness does not remain merely a psychological state. It needs to be transmuted into collective action. Whatever it may produce - a performance, an event, an internet initiative, a business idea or just a friendly collaboration - will act as an antidote to this new order of things with which we must learn to live.

During the economic crisis in Argentina, theatrical groups and performances proliferated. For us, Greeks, the demand of these times for common effort and trust in each other will perhaps be the one good thing to come out of this - not exactly unforeseeable - adventure that we've entered upon. Crisis is a group journey.

We should not waste energy pondering on who created the mirror at the first place. Easy answers are abundant. The important thing is that the mirror does exist - and there's nothing like a smooth, pitiless glass that can really tell the whole truth.