I’m negative. I excuse it as pragmatism, as refusing to stick my head in the sand, but when you’re trying not to look at the world through rose-colored glasses, there’s such a thing as putting on sunglasses so dark that things just get distorted the other way.
In accordance with a goal I have of being more positive, here are some things that make me glad and give me hope for the future:
1. High school blood drives. The fact that they come back each year means that the blood they collect is mostly useful, which means most teens donating blood (and there are a lot) are living healthy enough lives to give good blood.
2. Americans are spending less. Apparently, in hard times, we have some financial maturity after all. Some are reporting this as bad for the retail sector, but the overall effect here will be greater fiscal stability all around. Just as we drove less last year when gas prices peaked, we are now holding back some of our profligate ways. Good for us.
3. Christianity is growing at an amazing rate in the developing parts of the world. Scholar Philip Jenkins has written about this (for example, page 120 here), and it’s a heartening trend. More Christians in the world will inevitably lead to greater dissemination of education, greater social justice and stability, and even improved governmental and economic engines, as they always have.
4. Seeing teenage Aaronic Priesthood holders in white shirts and ties reverently (more or less) performing the sacrament. One Sunday before a fast and testimony meeting at church I watched them and felt a strong impression that they would go on to do significant good in their families and communities, maybe even in a larger sense. It helps to be reminded that there are good guys out there, and more to come in succeeding generations.
5. A decent media culture is still easy to find. I might gripe about all the shallow trash on the airwaves, online, and in theaters, but that hardly means that more worthy material is scarce. Quite to the contrary: original, family-friendly, genuinely inspiring things are all around us. They may not be the most popular or most influential things, but they’re there. National Review‘s recent list of conservative movies, even if we weed out the violent ones, shows us plenty of worthwhile ideas for viewing, and most of them are fairly mainstream. VeggieTales continues to entertain and enlighten children and adults alike. I recently started Leif Enger’s Peace Like A River, a strong and thoroughly literary treatment of traditional values. Online, many communities of thoughtful, erudite, cultured, family-centered living thrive. Even in hip hop music, there are trends towards more maturity. Good things are out there for those who want to find them.
6. Things are as good as they are. Despite the steep decline in many key areas of civilization, and the many serious dangers growing worse, and despite our largely unsuitable status as human beings, we continue to be blessed beyond imaginable measure. We live in free societies where we direct our own lives, largely untouched. We’re mostly healthy, able to enjoy the abilities of our bodies and be comfortable. Our possessions and physical safety are all but guaranteed at all times, with exceptions being relatively rare and usually slight. We have nearly infinite opportunities at our disposal for enriching entertainment and nourishment, almost regardless of economic difficulty. Yes, we need to strive for improvement in our society, but we can do so knowing that things are still a paradise by any reasonable standard, and not likely to disintegrate any time soon.
7. People are basically hard workingand law abiding. Despite my curmudgeonly commentaries, I remain at heart impressed by how well society holds together. A Mad Max/Clockwork Orange dystopia this isn’t. A few months ago, the power in a whole area of Las Vegas went out. It was the day before the long Thanksgiving weekend, and we spent the last hour of school in complete darkness, with nothing but a flashlight and cell phones to provide any light. Was there mass rioting, vandalism, and assault, which every student knew they would probably get away with? No. There wasn’t a single incident. Even if it isn’t always sufficient, most people are doing what they think is their best. That means something.
8. As sure as I am about problems related to demography, education, economics, etc., the bare truth is that doom and gloom mongers are almost always wrong. Global cooling? Unsustainable populations causing mass starvation? Runaway inflation? All failures. As Michael Crichton showed in Jurassic Park, life finds a way.
9. As one writer wryly noted, our society’s critical scorn of things like Paris Hilton’s hedonistic lifestyle is a sign of “lingering cultural sanity.” When we deride chronic drug users as empty headed stoners, dropouts as lazy wastrels, and couch potatoes as vapid addicts, we may be accidentally slightingthe feelings of some possible innocent few, but we’re also reinforcing positive social values. It’s called stigma, and it’s good to see that we have some disgust left for unacceptable behavior.
10. Humor. We can always laugh at ourselves. And at people who fall down.
11. Innovation continues. Laser eye surgery has revolutionized what was once long, costly, and painful. More efficient vehicles are being produced. Major cities are cleaner and less polluted than they were twenty years ago. Crime has gone down dramatically in New York in that time frame, also. Life expectancies and IQ’s keep going up. Iraq is so stable that the media has all but given up on predicting disaster.
12. Repentance and forgiveness through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Entropy is not inviolate in the universe; there is one stronger force that can turn it back, and that is God. Feeling guilt, shame, remorse, and even pain itself being taken away is the most sublime thing in life, humbling and gratifying beyond words. Relationships heal because of it, lives are turned towards productive bliss through its power. Even those who outright reject God are favored with a constant blanket of blessings and deliverance. Heaven is the ultimate hope, but the here and now is also always potentially perfect. The invitation is always there.