What distinguishes Americans from other people around the world? Two things: their ability to forget instantaneously, and their incredible sense of optimism in the face of what should have been remembered always.
Of course, it’s New Year’s that brings these reflections to the surface of our mind.
In the face of the continuing disaster of 2014, how can we as a people gear up, put on funny hats, drink ourselves into stupors, watch endless hours of football and entire days devoted to the best and the worst of 2014 — and yet still, somehow, believe – and we DO – that 2015 will be different? Better? More rewarding? Calmer? Healthier? Happier?
AND do this while we are still at war, our international relationships are taking dives from the high board, and as Wall Street prepares, with the government’s gracious permission, to stick the American public once more with its gambling debts.
We hear every day how divided the nation is, how partisan and biased, how riven by racial agonies.
We are still an underemployed, underpaid but willing work force.
We are content to watch prices for food increase hourly as long as prices for gasoline decline hourly.
Our kids still cannot read, write, think linearly. But they are whizzes electronically where all the functions that once were taught to their families as necessary and important to success in the future are forgotten in the joy of a new hand-held telephone.
We all clearly understand that some lives are worth less than others, on a sliding scale of value devised by hundreds of years of mistreatment and inequality.
Disease is rampant throughout the world; people are not free to make life choices; our governing bodies are snagged in the underbrush and cannot be expected to stand free and clear for many, many years due to the vines of money and lust that entangle them. We could cut these vines, or at least thin out the jungle, but we don’t.
Because we sincerely, deeply, devoutly believe that if we hang on long enough, the world will right itself with no effort from us.
That, folks, is the American way. It’s belief in bold letters. At one time, say seventy years ago, it was action in bold letters. Action, compromise, thoughtful planning, crucial assistance to our neighbors.
But today we just want to believe, and hence we watch photo montages of fireworks in Beijing, Moscow, and Sydney.
What’s happened here is that we are all starring in our own movies. But it seems we no longer remember that movies are make-believe. We have decided to believe them, too. We have the “selfies” to prove it.
There is one major force working against the realization that we need to do better if we are to survive, with survival in climate terms or economic, or both together. The speed of the press cycle. We are rarely given enough time to read or watch, think and weigh, before the next cycle begins…just when we begin to understand how an air disaster might happen, an earthquake hits and we’re off again, sending millions of bucks and troops to assist and dig out. Not, we note quickly, millions of helping hands. Just millions of bucks.
Since September 11, every event that involves Americans in any part of the world is viewed as though it were part of a television show. We watch fascinated, fearful perhaps, and then exchange those visual memories for ones that seem (unlikely though this may be) more important to us: professional football games, the Academy Awards, weather alerts, crime statistics.
Belief is a major component of the American character.
But aren’t we better off to replace some of that with doubt? With an understanding that the past does light our pathways? That reality means exactly that: real people, real problems, real solutions, many of which will fail. Aren’t we better off to take the long view and see the world through that grain of salt rather than to depend on our happiness quotient which seems, no matter what, to rise daily?
You know what answers Gallup and other pollsters never allow to appear in their results?
“Too soon to tell.”
“Wait and see.”