Optimistic still, we’re on our way

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It’s been said that a pessimist is a person who looks both ways when crossing a one-way street. I think I’ve done that. With crises looming today on the American scene and around the world, am I that pessimist who looks both ways, or is there room left any more for the optimist’s eyeshot, as the zombies of the day flutter and zoom all around us?

It’s been said that a pessimist is a person who looks both ways when crossing a one-way street. I think I’ve done that. With crises looming today on the American scene and around the world, am I that pessimist who looks both ways, or is there room left any more for the optimist’s eyeshot, as the zombies of the day flutter and zoom all around us?

Even a fake grin can make you feel better, according to researchers. Cheshire cats grin, so why can’t we?

Columnist Fareed Zakaria would take us back to the 70s and 80s, when Democrats seemed more concerned with this country’s shortcomings than with its accomplishments—pessimists. Whereas today it is the Republicans, he says, who in their anger and nostalgia for better days gone by, appear to take on that downer role.

Joe Klein, in turn, reflects on the crises that will soon surround us — in particular, the fiscal cliff that looms ahead, if political partisans fail to work together, resulting in a returning recession that would soon affect the whole world. If there’s no political compromise, are we to be stuck with fake grins, and that’s it?

So will the Mayan calendar end, after all, as the world comes crashing down? Is the American dream to turn into a nightmare, and dissolve the plans and aspirations we’ve cherished and fed? Is our optimism but a fool’s field of dreams? Or will we live on and see the pessimists’ phantoms fade into a whirl of glory and delight?

Our crises, indeed, are as real as a rabbit’s whiskers. Education is calling 9-1-1, infrastructures are under urgent care in the ER, the environment is taking revenge on our bungling, the economy is belly-up, and I’ve just outgrown my favorite trousers, so they have to be pitched.

It’s the economy’s paralysis analysis, which I put under my amateur’s microscope, that most of all has led me to think, anyway, that I have fallen into the pessimists’ pool. Candidates Romney and Obama are wonderful people. I’d be thrilled to sit down with the governor or the president to have a glass of water with either of them. But like Joe Klein, I wonder if either will be able to pull off a deal with the factions in Congress, to avoid that fatal fall off that fatuous cliff.

Boiling potatoes, we’ve heard before, won’t boil any faster by turning up the heat. We can turn up the dial—as we look both ways and work for change—but then what? Will things look better next year than they do right now?

It’s not the Tea Partiers’ fears that make our teeth chatter: liberated women, gays in the open, immigrants on the loose, and government programs too numerous to count. It’s rather a feckless world on steroids, where violence roams the streets, money calls the shots, rules of the game change daily at the whim of the powerful, and the lot of ordinary people depends too often on the roll of the dice. In James Cabell’s words, the optimist thinks this is the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears this is true.

How many pessimists does it take to screw in a light-bulb? None. There’s no use trying—it’s not going to stay in, anyway.

All right, we’ve had our chance to think. There are too many good people around to let the ship sink. After all, when everything is coming your way, you’re in the wrong lane—thanks, Steven Wright. And when it is dark enough, you can see the stars, adds Ralph Waldo Emerson. That makes us optimists? Probably not. It’s just that down-drafts are not in the winds for now. So spread the sails. It’s going to be an exciting voyage.

Kozeny has worked as a teacher, counselor, and in pastoral ministry. He can be reached by e-mail to tko-z@sdc.org.