The news these days can really get a person down. I am talking some serious hand-wringing. Just this morning while watching TV news, my husband remarked, “The world’s going to Hell in a hand basket.”
To be sure, reports on ISIS alone – what with all their threats, beheadings, and enslavement of women – are enough to give one pause. Add to that the Ebola scare, unrest in Hong Kong, and Russian incursions into Ukraine, and it can be hard to sleep at night.
Yet I hesitate to agree with the doomsayers. Although things seem really bad right now, they have certainly been worse. The two World Wars of the 20th Century were horrific conflagrations that involved virtually the entire planet. And let’s not forget the horrors of slavery, the ethnic cleansings, and the atrocities committed in the name of patriotism or religion over the past centuries.
Yesterday, the Chicago Tribune‘s retrospective featured the year 1968. During that one year, Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was shot and killed, leading to widespread riots. The Vietnam War raged and took the lives of thousands of Americans. There was unrest at the Democratic National Convention, and the homicide rate in America was nearly 50 percent higher than it is today. The U.S. even lost a nuclear bomb!
Every era has its share of dangerous and horrifying situations. I am currently reading a novel set during the time of the terrible Spanish flu, which claimed nearly 50 million lives (flu.gov). We have gotten through the Cold War, during which time the only thing that saved the planet was mutually assured destruction from the thousands of nuclear warheads possessed by the major super powers. And how about those Dark Ages?
I am not trying to minimize the real seriousness of world events. I can’t be totally sanguine while people are in danger of torture, murder, enslavement, or succumbing to a deadly virus. At the same time, for many people, life has never been better. People are living longer, and medical science continues to develop ways to promote health and prolong life. Technology has made many lives easier as well with labor-saving devices and safer equipment.
As journalist Daniel Gardner says in his fascinating book The Science of Fear, “We are the healthiest, wealthiest, and longest-lived people in history. And we are increasingly afraid. This is one of the great paradoxes of our time.” (source:goodreads.com)
I think what we need is a balance, so that instead of feeling afraid and helpless, we take reasonable steps to protect ourselves. We also need to remind ourselves of all the good things in life.
That tumultuous year 1968? Well, that was the year “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” premiered. Goodbye, neighbor.