Looking past gloom, doom

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

If you missed the article recently by The Associated Press titled "Everything seemingly is spinning out of control," then you missed a fascinating read that will send your mind spinning.

I'll recap in a short version the meat of the article. The writers took a look at a host of events and questioned whether the American can-do spirit is enough to overcome some of the unfolding world events. They use the words "powerlessness" and "helplessness" repeatedly to describe this national concern. And they wonder if these events are "chipping away at the country's sturdy conviction that destiny can be commanded with sheer courage and perseverance."

Gasoline prices skyrocket. Home values plummet. Health care becomes unaffordable. Terrorism is far too common. Faith in our elected officials teeters on record low levels. Hundreds of thousands of lives lost in recent natural disasters. Global warming: fact or fiction? Food prices poised to increase even higher. The dollar is becoming a second-rate currency. Even our sports stars are being exposed as cheats and frauds.

And finally, the writers pose the question that remains on the mind. Maybe we've reached a point where we can't fix our problems. Maybe this century will be about "a great unraveling of some things long taken for granted."

I'm part of a small group who gathers to take just the opposite approach. We meet and purposely discuss -- or try to discuss -- those bits and pieces of good news that often go unnoticed. We tirelessly try to find positives among the negatives, to look through the weeds to find that lone flower. And with varying degrees of success, we put our limited spin on the world events and find those nuggets of hope and promise. But I'd be less than honest if I didn't admit that sometimes that challenge is daunting. Those rose-colored glasses need cleaning from time to time.

The AP article rightfully points out that comparable dark periods fill our history. The Great Depression obviously comes to mind. But they also point to the Cold War, the economic stagflation of our past and other events that have blanketed doom and gloom across the land. And, interestingly, they also point out that each of these dark periods has been followed by a change in the party controlling the White House.

Thus, if history is repeated -- as we are so often told -- then November may be a welcome time for the Democratic Party and the fortunes of one Barack Obama. History shows that these dismal days were often followed by a more optimistic time, though the writers are quick to point out that there is no promise that past pattern is assured of being repeated.

I could write at length why there is hope for optimism right around the corner. I could argue that the worst is behind us. But I would struggle to put facts behind those words. I could struggle to pen a solution for the price spiral that is eating away at our wallets each and every day.

I fear the dynamics are different today than with any of these past periods of national concern. I fear that we have become lazy and less willing to roll up our sleeves and conquer these problems. But more than anything else, I fear we have come to rely on a growing federal government to solve those problems we feel are beyond our control. And when we rely too much on government solutions, we will always be disappointed.

Maybe it's no longer enough to look at self-reliance and personal determination to solve those issues that mark our days. But if we believe that some great thinker in Washington, D.C., is going to somehow magically change our world for the better, then the gloom and doom has just begun.

Michael Jensen is a Southeast Missourian columnist and publisher of the Standard Democrat in Sikeston, Mo.

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