(Today’s entry finds its inspiration in the *October 20, 2019 column by Pulitzer Prize-winning Chicago Times columnist Mary Schmich, “What if this time of chaos is the beginning of something better?” .)
It’s not news that we live in more-than-interesting times—they’re downright difficult, actually. All around us—sometimes inside of us—fear, confusion, anger and depression seem stronger than we can remember. The arc of our history seems to be bent downward, with our daily newsfeeds reinforcing the prospect that even harder times are around the corner. For some of us, the key to mental stability may lie in paying less attention to what’s occurring in the world around us. We may get along by hunkering down, going about our business even though our hopes may be dulled by what comes our way at almost every moment.
Within the general framework of “optimism” lies a different mindset, though: The idea that there is an upside to these downsides—that the problems may themselves becomes reasons for hope.
A word about optimism. As Schmich writes, “Optimism is not a blind acceptance of the world as it is. It’s the belief that if we stay vigilant and work hard, things can get better, even if on the way to better they’re sometimes awful.” In her mind, optimism is as much a commitment to action as it is an attitude. We work for positive outcomes and so remain hopeful.
Schmich notes that there is hope in the growing backlash that’s emerged regarding this President, the grip of tyrannical technologies or cruelties around the world. Extending her logic out into the rest of our culture, we can see how strong, encouraging societal movements have grown in number and influence—the 2016 elections, #MeToo, Black Lives Matter, youth’s involvement in gun control and climate change. (See yesterday’s post, “Another Kindness Institute” as another example.)
To look at this from a spiritual viewpoint, we remember how Messianic hopes emerged when God’s people lived in captivity. We read prophetic Scriptures and see how God’s redemptive promises are embedded inside warnings about punishment. We look at Jesus’ life-giving words and deeds, occurring during a time of heavy-handed Roman oppression. We name saints and reformers, many of whose visions for change occurred during perilous eras. Courageous religious leaders today are gathering support for their resistance to corruption.
Back to Smich: Because “all the awful issues have been flushed out in the open… we’re free to wage these wars of ideas loudly and in public.” An upside to the downside. Because democracy is threatened, we’re thinking hard about why we value it. An upside to the downside. Teens and young adults are wrestling with despair, and thwarting it by taking action. An upside to that downside. Truth-tellers are ferreting out public lies and shaming the liars. An upside to a downside.
Those of us who are older may have been here before—the horrors of fascism; the McCarthy-era assault on freedoms; societally sanctioned racial and sexual discrimination. And we know that those former dark times were eventually overwhelmed by women and men who spoke and lived God’s truth. They didn’t give in to humanity’s ugliness. They believed God’s promises while waiting for their salvation.
We can see over the horizons of present-day problems and find hope: God is working through people like us to reverse the downward slide.
We may be the upside!
*For the web version of Schmich’s Sunday column, see https://www.chicagotribune.com/columns/mary-schmich/ct-met-mary-schmich-donald-trump-1000-days-exhaustion-20191018-rfcr4al5ynhpvimycecdd5ivpi-story.html