Why My Glass is Still Half-Full
(A Pragmatic Optimist’s New Year’s Toast)
I am a pragmatic optimist. I can only describe that as meaning while my glasses aren’t exactly rose colored, they do appear shaded in a slightly pink hue. Therefore, lately, when more and more people around me, as well as every form of media available, try to convince me that we truly have come to live in a world that is scarier and more dysfunctional than anytime gone before, I get kind of annoyed. I’m sure some of that is the optimism I mentioned. I’m not fond of being told repeatedly that my half full glass is in fact most decidedly half empty.
However, I actually think it is my pragmatic side that is more ticked off by the relentless sky is falling chorus. Do I worry for my children? Of course I do, as I imagine all parents from the dawn of time have. But I’m not really convinced that I have more to worry about than generations before me. I keep looking for a point of comparison that would provide some factual basis for this growing and persistent doomsday mentality. So far I’m not finding myself compelled to the side of the Chicken Littles.
I mean, we could go back to the good old days when those of us who are parents today were growing up. I’m sure our nostalgia has us convinced that we were far safer than our own offspring. Guess again. At least from a crime standpoint, our kids are not just a little bit safer, but dramatically safer. According to the FBI, violent crime has dropped by more than 50% (yes 50%!!!!!) since the 1990’s.
How about we go back a bit further, to the golden age of the picture perfect 1950’s a la Donna Reed. An era that is getting a slightly more glamorous make over in the currently popular Mad Men TV show. Surely back then, marriages were happier, kids were well behaved and the world wasn’t so violent (oh and clearly everyone dressed better). That is true as long as you’re not taking into consideration the Korean and Vietnam wars, Polio, rampant racial discrimination, the fact that spousal abuse wasn’t a criminal act and the reality that all of these brilliant little girls we are raising today who want to be scientists or a doctors would have been told instead to pursue their MRS. degrees.
I could keep time traveling, decade by decade, but the picture would only get more bleak; more wars, more disease, higher child mortality rates, less equality. Even our gridlocked government is nothing new. Our existence has been tumultuous since…..well forever.
My pragmatic side sympathizes with those who find fear and fault in so much of our human condition today. However, my optimistic side might go so far as to suggest that our world is actually a better place. There is even data that supports her Pollyanna point of view. Over the past fifty years, globally we have recognized significant improvements in poverty levels while medical advancements and technological innovations have led to increased longevity and better quality of life for large segments of our population.
I don’t deny that we live in challenging times and that our children face an uncertain future. I’m just not won over by the argument that the woes in our world have truly exceeded the wonders. So, this year as we head into the New Year and I raise my glass to give a toast, I’ll still be insisting it is without a doubt, half full.