We are learning some hard lessons these days. For many Fat City is wasting away. Who among us has not been affected by the economic downturn? Is there anyone who does not have a story to tell? Or who has not noticed the emptiness of malls and restaurants, not to mention the darkened shops and starving parking lots? “Brother, can you spare a dime?” may now be “…a buck? Or two? Or ten?” but the tune rings just as true.

At the moment the recession of 2008 seems to have reached its bottom, or so some say. That may not be true for unemployment or the small business world but there are signs of light on the horizon, even through those and other clouds. Fragile signs, perhaps, but signs nonetheless. There may be still some hard lessons ahead but what have we learned so far?

For starters, that greed, even on a personal level, can become a global problem. Whether on Wall Street or Main Street, in the housing market, big business and government, greed is a cancer that should never be ignored. It is usually misdiagnosed as instant gratification in its early stages, sinking its roots into an attitude of entitlement. Then it metastasizes into acquisition after acquisition. Ask any greedy person, corporate executive or politician “When is enough enough?” and they will quickly answer “Never.”

We have learned that saving for a rainy day is not a foolproof strategy, that pensions are sometimes empty promises, that retirement plans can become anorexic overnight and that one’s future, in its most fragile years, cannot be guaranteed.

We have also had to admit our vulnerabilities. The recession has exposed our shortcomings and problems in unsettling detail. Healthcare, Social Security, education, social justice and poverty scream even louder for attention in bad times, knowing solutions are further off than ever.

Perhaps the toughest lesson of all has been humility. If, as they say, humility is truth, what we are learning about ourselves is not pretty. In a world that is sick with viral terrorism, devastated by war and famine, violence and disease, we as a people have come up way short of who we think and say we are. Somehow, in the good times, we became complacent, arrogant and, perhaps, presumptive – all thriving neighborhoods in Fat City.

The good news is that the recession of 2008 is a wake-up call no one can ignore. There may be “enough blame to go around” for what got us here (Let revisionist historians pin the tail on that donkey.) but if we have learned our lessons well we have no choice but to retool ourselves to become the people and the nation our world needs more than ever.