Sour news sells. Crabby commentators attract large audiences. Fear sells. Negativity draws readers and viewers like sugar draws ants.
Many of our politicians and preachers make a living out of selling fear and pessimism. They dwell on what’s wrong. If you buy their message, you’d think there was no worse time to be alive.
I think it’s time we get in touch with our history. It tells a very different story.
Personally, I’ve had it very easy. I didn’t have to go off to fight a war. I wasn’t slain or maimed on a battlefield. I’ve never gone to bed hungry. I’ve never felt like I might freeze to death. And I’ve never been in danger of dying or sustaining permanent disability due to lack of medical care. I’ve never been called names, hated or denied opportunities due to the color of my skin or my religion. Or my nationality. Or sex.
I had it easy. I was fortunate to be born where I was, when I was and to whom I was.
I also had incredible choice — not unlimited choice, but far more choice than nearly all my human predecessors and contemporaries had. And it’s likely you, Vera, will have even more choices and opportunities than I did.
But it’s not my story. It’s our story.
The fact is, never in the modern history of the world have so few people gone to bed hungry. Never has the world been so safe. Never have so many people lived so long and had so many comforts.
Are things perfect? Of course not. Are all trends positive? No. But perspective is important. And we seem to be losing ours.
It’s unfortunate because we miss out on a lot of good stuff when we wallow in our disappointments and bleak outlooks.
So why has pessimism taken hold? I think there are several reasons.
First, I think we’ve set ourselves up for failure by believing the propaganda spewed by Madison Avenue (the incessant advertising and marketing campaign directed at us). They tell us we can have it all. We can’t. But we can have all we need — and all that’s needed to live a happy and fulfilling life.
Second, I think it’s because so many of us have dug a hole for ourselves by trying to have it all. Many people can barely move due to the mountain of debt they’ve allowed to be built on top of them. It’s hard to feel good about tomorrow when you can barely breathe.
Third, I think it’s because of our choices. Many of us have chosen to believe in unconstrained individualism and to believe purity in ideology trumps all else. We’re no longer Americans. We’re ideologues. We’ve become arrogant, thinking we know more than any human could possibly know. A false certitude has taken root. Compromise became a sin. Political careers were propelled by how vitriolic one could be and not by what one accomplished. We started hating our neighbors and calling them names. We’ve become mean. And we’ve stopped working together. We’ve stopped investing in infrastructure. We’ve stopped worrying about the quarter of our kids who live in poverty. We’ve stopped caring about each other. It’s no wonder pessimism took root.
Fourth, I think it’s because computer technology has upset the order of things. And we haven’t yet figured out how to deal with it. Job displacement has turned entire families and communities upside down. It’s as if the ground is shaking beneath us. It breeds insecurity.
Fifth, I think it’s because we’re afraid. I saw it in stark terms after 9/11. I see it today. We’re afraid of terrorists. Baby Boomers are afraid of aging. Everyone is afraid of dying. We talk much of capitalism. Careers. Money. Freedom. Politics. Nationalism. Militarism. Religion. America. We speak too little of courage. And love.
Sixth, I think it’s because we stopped believing in ourselves and our abilities and potential.
I was lucky. I was a kid when President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
He said we were going to land on the moon within the decade. And we did.
It was a great time to grow up. Our imaginations were full of possibilities. We were led to believe we could. Hence, I was gifted with a can-do attitude.
Despite the can’t-do and refusal-to-work-together attitudes that have taken root in recent decades (temporarily, I believe), it’s still a great time to be alive. And I think it will be even better tomorrow, Vera.
Sure, we can do so better. We can vastly improve our educational system. We can make health care more affordable. We can ensure people are paid a living wage and treated fairly in the workplace. We can rebuild our bridges, roads and airports. We can rescue our kids who languish in poverty. We can strengthen our bridges to other societies and cultures to build a lasting peace. There is so much we can do to make the world a better place. And there is so much that will get done, provided we make that choice.
Public opinions surveys reveal that many people think their kids and grandchildren will not have it as good as they did. I think they’re wrong.
I think you will have the opportunity for an amazing life, Vera. And, as a woman, I know you’ll have more opportunities than a young woman would have had when I was your age.
Will everything be peachy? Or easy? No. Life has its bumps. And sometimes its tragedies. But everything is relative. And based on everything I can see, we have it pretty good. And it probably will be even better tomorrow.
Enjoy the ride, Vera. It’s a great time to be alive! You are one lucky girl.