Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Send in the Optimists

Gotta love optimism. It is a rare and valuable condition these days. Optimists are people that we need about now.

A friend of mind has recently been battling depression. Thankfully, she is doing better after admitting the existence of her problem and seeking help. She said one adjustment that has really helped is not watching the news on television. Oh, she still keeps current on events by reading newspaper headlines and scanning items of interest on the internet. But ignoring the overwhelming problems of the world helps her to avoid dealing with problems over which she has no control.

I'd heard this theory before. Some folks -- including those who like to control matters that life throws their way -- feel overwhelmed by hearing about all the bad things that are happening at any given time. These feelings can be overwhelming and counter-productive.

Take tonight's news, for instance. A half hour of network news included: the fighting in Israel/Gaza; details of a recent and extensive house explosion in Indianapolis (which has now been deemed a homicide); recovery efforts in New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy; and a well-known puppeteer from a famous children's puppet group who resigned following allegations of a very personal nature. Other than that, there was on-going updates from the resignation of a former CIA director, a report about people's lives being ruined by internet hackers and a story about striking personnel at a well-known discount store just in time for holiday shopping. Whew. And that occurred in a half-hour minus commercial time.

Things have been bad in the world and certainly in this country on many occasions in the past two centuries. Limiting consideration to that time frame eliminates such earlier events as the fall of Rome, the bubonic plague, The Inquisition and The Hundred Years War. This time restriction still allows us to face the rise of Nazi Germany, the Holocaust, several wars -- The Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict and Vietnam, plus the Great Depression, presidential assassinations and the Civil Rights Movement. No doubt other atrocities occurred and have not been listed here. But let's face it -- a lot of really awful things have transpired on our planet.

In many of these incidents which occurred before the 1940s, there was little public awareness at the time. There was no television and many areas of the country without radio. Newspapers identified some of the turmoil and movie theatres showed snippets of some stories in a newsreel along with featured films. The public didn't know a lot of the details which was unfortunate for public information.

But was it really unfortunate that they didn't know? How would open dialogue about the existence of bubonic plague have made the public feel? No doubt there would be panic. Hysteria. Violence. What could the majority of people do about such a matter if they had known? Nothing. As the plague swept Europe, villagers heard stories about the approaching sickness. They had little choice but to wait until illness arrived and deal with it as best they could. Sometimes, it might be better if we didn't know about every lurid event over which we are powerless. Perhaps a little ignorance is bliss.

With the approach of the year end, the daily mail is filled with pleas for donations to help various charities. Each day brings another stack of solicitations. Most of us donate what we can as best we can whether serving as a volunteer or providing donations. No one can be expected to give to every worthy cause. In some instances, we need to turn off the sense of panic that such inability brings.

Some people are able to do just that. They remain optimistic about the "big picture" of life and do what they can. I admire optimism. It is optimism that keeps us moving forward and facing the world each day. It is not an easy trait to develop but unfortunately it is a trait which is easy to lose. I used to be such an optimist that some people actually told me I was too smug about life. Well, there is nothing like a few life experiences to take the spirit of optimism out of a person. Once lost, it is difficult to regain.

Looking at the end of another calendar year, I hope we can all find a little optimism waiting for us in our holiday gift exchange.

It's a wonderful gift indeed.

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