Tag Archives: pessimism

“Save the government”

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When our third- and fourth-grade grandchildren come over to visit, they like to play in the unfinished room in our basement. Sometimes they set up the card tables and chairs to play “school,” or “store,” or “city government.” I was a bit shocked and saddened a couple of days ago to find two signs they had posted on the wall: “Save the government,” and “Make it so terror does not become the government.”

I wondered: Are we adults responsible for this? Have we somehow instilled in them such anxiety about what is going on in the world that they fear for their freedom? Is this the legacy national leaders are leaving to children—doubt and fear?

Children should not have to worry that their way of life—freedom as they know it—is going to disappear.

They hear, and they know. Times have been tumultuous recently, especially in the political arena. Our resolve and our commitment to a democratic republic have been tested, and the tests are ongoing.

Integrity seemed to be an early casualty in the 2016 election campaign. Honesty and civility suffered severe setbacks. Freedom of speech and thought are under ongoing attack.

But I still have confidence in the right to think and speak what we believe to be right. I have hope that in the end this freedom will prevail.

Now, I am a natural-born pessimist. I tend to believe Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” I live prepared for people to disappoint me, seeking their own welfare first and foremost, ignoring the common good. (And how often, I have to ask, am I guilty of this?)

Fortunately, my wife–ever the optimist in our home–balances me out.

But as I have gotten older, I have become more optimistic. I have come to realize more and more that living in expectation of trouble is no way to build a worthwhile life. If you want happiness, look for it, seek it out, and if necessary, make it yourself. If you don’t want to be weighed down by gloom at the end of the day, look for happiness and joy along the way. They are there when you pay attention. Did you find them in the slant of early light through the trees this morning? In the mother at the store with a young child, or children, curiously and delightedly getting to know the world around them? In a quiet opportunity to read and ponder great ideas?

More and more I have tried to implement in my life the counsel of a man I accepted and honored as a prophet of God. Gordon B. Hinckley taught: “There is a terrible epidemic of pessimism in the land. . . . I come . . . with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight.” He shared this counsel from his wise father: “Cynics do not contribute, skeptics do not create, doubters do not achieve.”

We can all learn from our mistakes, of course, and we all have need to repent of our sins and errors. But when we look at those mistakes, do we also consider the good that may have come from our more selfless actions?

Struggle in this life begins when we are very young, and it will continue as long as we live on earth. After more than 70 years of facing it, the only useful approach I see to dealing with this struggle is simply to keep going on. Move forward. When you keep moving forward, you eventually reach your goals.

Again, I have come to rely on the counsel of Gordon B. Hinckley: “Keep trying. . . . Be believing. Be happy. Don’t get discouraged. Things will work out.”

That is a lesson I hope to help my grandchildren learn.



“The Merry Minuet” Goes On


Slim Pickens as a crazed Air Force pilot riding a nuclear bomb down to certain oblivion in “Dr. Strangelove.”

Back in the late 1950s, my favorite singing group, The Kingston Trio, performed a song called “The Merry Minuet” by Sheldon Harnick. It mocked the current tragedies of the time and the possibility of our world ending in nuclear war. I suppose it was a form of whistling past the graveyard—of taking some of the edge off of the unthinkable possibilities. At 14, I thought the song was terribly funny and witty.
I still listen to my old Kingston Trio favorites, but I notice that this particular song isn’t included in their collections. And I can’t laugh about that song anymore. The reason isn’t that the world seems more grim now than it did back then, but that I am disappointed because the world doesn’t seem to have changed much. Almost 60 years have passed, and what progress have we made toward world peace or harmony?
The song spoke of natural calamities, of strife in Africa and Iraq, of political unrest and possible upheaval in Europe. Then—well, listen to some of the words that followed:
“But we can be tranquil and thankful and proud
For man’s been endowed with the mushroom-shaped cloud
And we know for certain that some lovely day
Someone will set the spark off
And we will all be blown away . . . .”
Members of my generation were confronted in our teens with the possibility that nuclear war could end the world as we knew it. Want to see how that messed with our minds? Go online and look for a movie called “On the Beach,” a grim 1959 drama about the last survivors of a global nuclear war waiting in Australia to die as radiation poisoning in the atmosphere finally teaches them. Or check out the Peter Sellers black comedy classic “Dr. Strangelove: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” At the end of that one, audiences didn’t know whether to laugh or go home and hide.
In the decades that passed, the world was shaped politically by the concepts of Mutually Assured Destruction and détente to make nuclear war an almost unthinkable option for any nation. Perhaps we all came to breathe a little easier. The duck-and-cover drills of our youth and the idea of building a backyard bomb shelter faded away. (See the more recent movie “Blast from the Past.”) We all thought the Cold War was gone for good.
But now there are militant terrorist groups—not nations, but fanatical ideologues–unimpressed by the concept of détente and undeterred by the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction. Some of them would not care how many people might have to die in a nuclear exchange so long as they were the last people left standing. Some of them would dearly love to get their hands on nuclear weapons.
Listen to the ending of “The Merry Minuet”:
“What nature doesn’t do to us
Will be done by our fellow man.”
With random, unpredictable terrorist attacks, there seems to be almost no place on earth where we can be safe from the harm done by our fellow man or woman, if that person is determined to kill or wreak havoc. And a resurgent Russia, with egotistical, ambitious Vladimir Putin leading the way, seems bent on confronting the West militarily. So where is safety?
Of course, there are steps we can take—learn how to avoid places where terror attacks might happen, build that backyard bunker, maybe carry a weapon. But nothing can offer complete security. There is always the crazy who suddenly snaps when you’re on hand, or the stray meteorite.
I don’t mean to make light of the possibilities. Of course we should be as prepared as possible to protect ourselves. But life has always been unpredictable, and may be uncertain at times despite our best efforts. I believe that the best protection is to live a good life. Sure, protect yourself as best you can. But live so that you can confidently ask for God’s protection. He truly does give it when we still have work to do for Him on this earth. And when He chooses to take us, we will be prepared to meet Him—even if death comes at the hands of someone bent on murder and destruction.
The only real protection the world has against people like those is for all of us to live God’s laws. There will always be weapons of destruction available to people who want to use them. Preventing sick and hate-filled people from having these weapons is an excellent idea, of course, but ultimate protection lies in creating a world where there is no one who has the desire to use them.