The first page of the newspaper showed rioters breaking store windows and stealing merchandize. I read only enough of the article to know where, when and why. A few pages in was an article about the acceleration of climate change. Next, there was an article detailing the virus’ devastating financial effects on families. On the back page was a graph showing a rapid increase in new COVID-19 cases.
I pride myself on keeping a fine balance between knowing what is going on in this world and not allowing that knowledge to make me feel sick with worry. That day I felt poisoned by the news. I wondered if in the history of the world, there has ever been a time where so many things were messed up and going wrong.
It’s hard to find a proper, healthy perspective when looking at the world. I struggle with bad news, frequently asking myself, “Will things eventually improve, or is the world going to —- in a handbasket?”
Many people think all the good times are in the past and are unlikely to happen again. One man pessimistically grumbled, “… children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Who said that? Socrates, a man who lived over 24 centuries ago!
It helps to know that many generations of honorable people have lived since Socrates’ dismal assessment of the future generation. There might be hope for this world’s 21st century.
After an afternoon spent working on my latest project, sorting and storing four generations of family pictures from several households, I developed a further insight into the world news doom and gloom.
Every picture I looked at showed smiling people. Since I knew them, I knew what made them sad and what world situations were threatening their life and happiness at the time of the photo.
My mother’s steady gaze into the camera when she was a young teenager didn’t reveal her concern about the Spanish flu. She had once commented to me, “After the young men who survived the first world war came home from Europe, many of them got sick and died from the flu.”
Despite the economic depression during the 1930’s, life went on. The happy smiles the photographer caught on Mom and Dad’s wedding day proves that.
The second World War meant rationing and worry about family members who went to fight and that the bombing would eventually happen in the United States. But life went on. My parents raised a family, smiling and laughing at the antics of their little ones.
The big war ended in 1945, but the danger to the world continued. During the cold war that followed, there was a bone-chilling fear of communism and a catastrophic unleashing of an atomic bomb. During that period of time, our family had members marry and start families of their own. Their wedding day pictures showed people focused on a hopeful, happy future.
One of my favorite parts of a newspaper are the funnies. Today, the ‘Pearls Before Swine’ cartoon really resonated with me. It showed the character, Pig, happily skipping along. Watching him were the intellectual goat and the cynical, pessimistic rat. Rat calls out, “Pig, what are you doing, prancing around like that?”
Pig doesn’t lose his stride. He yells back, “It’s called stupid optimism. It’s when you are optimistic for no good reason at all!”
In the last panel, Rat asks Goat, “Is that allowed?”
To live a happy life, sometimes we just need to practice stupid optimism and move forward.