Getting a Grip in a Difficult Time: Reasons for Optimism

Malala-Yousafzai

As I listen to the news and read the newspaper, it seems we are in the worst moment in history or something pretty close. Think of the following list:

  • Ebola
  • Ebola panic (a rather different thing than the disease itself)
  • Antibiotics losing their effectiveness
  • More armed conflicts and genocides than you can count on two hands
  • Political stalemate
  • Few if any great men or women to lead us
  • Climate change threatening planetary survival
  • Science-denial leading people to prevent the inoculation of their children against disease
  • Intolerance of opposing views even if they are well-reasoned
  • A fracturing of the sense of community (as, for example, was present during World War II or immediately after 9/11)
  • Political and corporate corruption
  • Unemployment
  • Homelessness
  • Racial/religious discrimination
  • Growing economic inequality
  • Inequality of opportunity
  • Educational failure
  • Enraged voices on all sides
  • Killer air-bags
  • The common cold. I threw a sneeze in just to lighten the mood!

Before you take a suicidal walk straight into and under the sea, inhale and step back. Here are a few ways to deal with all the bad stuff. I’ll describe five, the last two of which might actually be helpful:

  1. The Ostrich Impersonation.
    Take a tip from the myth about an ungainly, flightless bird. Stick your head under the covers or close your eyes. Perhaps the world’s troubles will disappear. Don’t read or watch anything having to do with problems. Stay focused only on personal issues or (even better) distract yourself from everything important, including your life’s direction. Don’t vote, but do drink, drug, jump on every sexual opportunity, surf the net, tweet every five minutes, buy a new sweater and post loads of selfies so we can rate your new look. YOLO! (You only live once)!
  2. “Rage, Rage, Against the Dying of the Light!”
    Attempt to be first in something. Lead the world in rage! That’s the spirit! Hone your expertise in criticism. Pick fights, complain, point fingers, and shake fists. Argue about politics and religion. Give family members a hard time, too. Despite having no experience or education in science and politics, shout “Follow me!” as you lead the crowd over the cliff. Should anyone survive, accept no responsibility.
  3. Pray, and If All Prayer Fails, Pray Harder!
    Ignore the real world. Spend the largest part of every day in prayer, if possible in a place of worship. Believe the gods will help you if only you pray hard enough. Take the attitude of the man who ignored flood warnings even when the police came to evacuate him. “No thank you, I’ll be fine,” he said. “The lord will protect me.” A few hours later, after the ground floor of his home was under water, a rescue boat made the same offer. Again, he repeated his confidence in the almighty from the window of his upstairs bedroom. The tide rose and the hours clicked by. He was now on the roof and a hovering helicopter dropped a rope ladder, his final chance to escape. “No thank you, I’ll be fine,” he replied once more. “The lord will protect me.” He drowned, of course, but was quite incredulous and a bit irritated. Upon arriving at heaven’s gate, this devotee of the creator delivered a Job-like complaint to St. Peter: “I was a devout man. I prayed every day. I never harmed anyone. I counted on God, but I died! Explain this!” he demanded. St. Peter looked down at the little fellow and said unto him, “Who do you think sent those people, you fool!”
  4. Look Back at History.
    Think about your own life, all the calamitous moments you thought unsurvivable. You’re breathing, aren’t you? You survived! Maybe you even learned something. Perhaps the world works the same way. Pick a year, say, 1962. The Cuban Missile Crisis. I remember listening to President Kennedy’s TV speech on the evening of October 22nd, announcing a military blockade of Cuba to prevent Soviet missiles from being delivered. I wondered if I would be alive the next morning as those warships faced off. Mankind has endured two World Wars, the Great Depression between them, the Influenza Pandemic of 1918/19, the Bubonic Plague, the Inquisition, the Crusades, and more. Anyone who longs for the “good old days” has a challenge. Your grandparents lived when blacks were lynched and summers brought fear of polio. Bright women were largely limited to work at home, secretarial jobs, and teaching. Despite everything, including ourselves, the giant daisy chain of Homo sapien life that began with the first man and woman remains unbroken. Shakespeare knew the trouble we’ve seen: “‘Tis the time’s plague when madmen lead the blind.” Making the world better has never been easy. Still, humanity lives, laughs, and every so often creates a technological miracle.
  5. Take Action.
    As in #4, reflect upon your own life, but think anew, think what you alone can do. It might be grand or something small. Take heart in 2014 Nobel Peace Prize co-winner, Malala Yousafzai. Her 2013 speech to the United Nations came after she recovered from a bullet wound to her head by the Taliban. She had done the unconscionable: the teen wanted an education for herself and all young women. This is a portion of  her UN oration, given when she was just 16:

    I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there is a gun in my hand and he stands in front of me. I would not shoot him. This is the compassion that I have learnt from Muhammad-the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha. This is the legacy of change that I have inherited from Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. This is the philosophy of non-violence that I have learnt from Gandhi Jee, Bacha Khan and Mother Teresa. And this is the forgiveness that I have learnt from my mother and father. This is what my soul is telling me, be peaceful and love everyone.

    If we have reason for optimism about this crazy world, it is in the realization the human species endures, but we live as surely in the shadow of death as did our short-lived ancient ancestors. All of us owe ourselves and each other the responsibility to make life better. We alone can ensure all life, not only human life, goes on. You and I are not Malala Yousafzai, but surely, to “be peaceful and love” is in your power and mine.

The top image lists an incorrect birth year for Malala Yousafzai. She was born in 1997.

4 thoughts on “Getting a Grip in a Difficult Time: Reasons for Optimism

  1. Thank you for your excellent post, Dr. Stein.

    I laughed out loud at this last item on your list of ailments:
    “The common cold. I threw a sneeze in just to lighten the mood!”
    Love your sense of humor 🙂

    Yes, to “be peaceful and love” is in my power. Let peace and love begin with me.

    Like

    • I never doubted you. I’m also glad to give you a laugh. As you correctly observe, I’m liable to write (and say) almost anything!

      Like

  2. My favorite chuckle was this one: “He drowned, of course, but was quite incredulous and a bit irritated.” Ha! Just laughed again. Thank you, Dr. S, for the contemplative respite. 🙂

    Like

    • The pleasure is mine, Harry. The joke is told in several ways. The particular portion you found amusing was my own addition. Irony never hurts!

      Like

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