The Human Spark

The Detroit Free Press announced earlier this month that the government released a sobering jobs report indicating that the number of unemployed nationally rose by 632,000 people in the month of December to more than 11 million.

That’s a lot of people, many of whom are experiencing serious repercussions.

According to a recent report in the Washington Business Journal, “Two recessions over the last decade have elevated the number of people living in poverty, with nearly half of the increase occurring in the suburbs of the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas, according to a report released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution.”

People aren’t just losing their jobs, they are losing their cars and their houses, even their families. It is a tragedy no less real or tangible than any other disaster.

Of course in the midst of all this, the single biggest unemployment story in the news is that of Conan O’Brien, who stands to lose the one job he dedicated his life to landing. And I really feel sorry for Conan to the extent that he is getting screwed. Of course, I have also enjoyed the comedy battle royale that has ensued over the past few weeks as Jimmy Kimmel and David Letterman and Jay and Conan ruthlessly bash the snot out of NBC. It is American entertainment at its finest.

And then you remember the 11 million unemployed. The fortunate ones are collecting unemployment, which barely covers even the most basic needs, while the others have nothing but charity to fall back on. Meanwhile Conan stands to – at worst – collect $30+ million while waiting for his next gig.

All of which brings me back, once again, to that PBS special featuring Alan Alda in search of the human spark. Earlier this week, Alan Alda discovered how babies pick cooperative puppets over those that won’t play. The general conclusion being that it is in our nature – even from the earliest stages of life – to prefer people who are helpful over people who are not. Something inside us is drawn to good.

So despite all the unemployment and the havoc it is wreaking. And despite the fiasco at NBC. There is reason to be optimistic and dare I say, hopeful. Because it turns out the nature of human uniqueness involves empathy and cooperation.

And that is a good thing.

Jim Sweeney


Jim is a veteran of the agency industry and the founder of Sweeney. He is uncommonly passionate about the idea of creating and implementing insanely great marketing campaigns that achieve insanely great results. He pioneered the full-service, full-circle agency model and continues to forge new ideas in an ever-changing industry. And he is accessible to everyone about anything, seemingly all the time, serving as a mentor to all agency personnel and clients.