Stubborn optimism required to face tribulations of 2013

Man often becomes what he believes himself to be. If I keep on saying to myself that I cannot do a certain thing, it is possible that I may end by really becoming incapable of doing it. – Ghandi

Optimism is in short supply these days. It’s hard not to feel bearish about the prospects of our country — or humanity, for that matter.

When you survey the world around us — Aurora, Newtown, Sandy, the fiscal cliff, the rise of poverty, the decline of the American republic, the inability of our political institutions to do anything about any of it — you can’t help but think: WTF.  And I don’t mean welcome to Fruita.

Bad news is basically everywhere — the newspaper, the TV, over here and over there.

When my family went house shopping in the Denver-area recently, we saw it up close. Somewhere in the Realtor’s spiel about square feet, number of bathrooms and the quality of the neighborhood school was, too often, a sad story about what went wrong with the family that occupied the space before.

Foreclosure, divorce, a lost business, a retirement interrupted by a disappearing pension, suicide, teen drug issue, and on and on and on. In so many houses, once homes, sadness abounds.  Tragedy next door to tragedy.

These cold winds, no news to you, cast an inevitable chill over the enthusiasm that used to accompany the onset of a new year. Realism in 2013 can be depressing if you allow it to be.  You can be forgiven if you feel the impulse to make “Bah, Humbug!” part of your New Year’s vocabulary, too.

However, realism does not preclude optimism.  The thing is, these days optimism is just a lot more work. In times like these — and let there be no doubt, in 50 years historians will remember this period as an unusually difficult chapter in the American story — optimism takes on the requirements of faith.

As in, believing in something, even though you cannot see it; believing circumstances will get better, even though things generally suck; refusing to lose faith in humanity, even though humanity seems to be losing its humanity: and refusing to throw in the towel on the American experiment, even though the American experiment is, these days, gonzo hay-wire.

Finally, it requires refusing to allow the prevailing cynicism to prevail upon you.

The new optimism isn’t cut from the mold of the hopeless romantic.

No, the new optimism takes on more the feel of that Saturday Night Live caricature, Grumpy Old Man — obstinate, headstrong, unwilling to bend from tradition. In this case, it is a stubborn refusal to give up on the American Dream or the belief that we will break through.

Listen here Sonny: The economy was rotten, the government and the banks were corrupt, the Chinese were kicking our butts, but we were optimistic anyway, and we liked it!

The new optimism is a decidedly stubborn optimism. It insists, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, that the outlook will improve — that things will get better for you and me and us.

Ghandi, a man who knew something about the stubborn embrace of seemingly out-of-reach aspirations, said it well. If you don’t think something is possible, it isn’t possible.

If America fails to emerge from our present predicament, it will only be because we decided we could not.

In this new year, resist the temptation to say, “Bah, Humbug!” Push back against cynicism in your midst. Be a realist, but be an optimist, too.

When others complain, occasionally encourage. When others bemoan, occasionally reassure. When others point to problems, steer the conversation to solutions.

When Republicans refuse to assign any good motive or attribute to the president ever, tell them they occasionally should. (I’ll try, honest.)

When Democrats and reporters refuse to assign any good motive or attribute to their state representative ever, tell them they occasionally should.

When someone cuts you off in traffic, wave with all five fingers, not just one.

America is still America, of course. Tough words, sarcasm and satire are innate to our discourse. The task now is to make sure that fighting words don’t cripple us from acknowledging the promise of a better tomorrow.

In 2013, be a stubborn optimist. These days, there is no other kind.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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