I read an article in Time this morning while shoveling in my oatmeal and raisins entitled “The American Dream has seen better days-much better” by John Meacham. He quoted James Adams, an historian who wrote during and after the Great Depression. Adams first coined the expression in his book, The Epic of America. “(The) American dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank…is the greatest contribution we have as yet made to the thought and welfare of the world.” Meacham suggests that it is assumed that each generation will improve upon the other as we move toward “all our citizens of every rank” being included in this dream, but this is not what passing history is showing us. Franklin D. Roosevelt said later in life, “Things in life will not always run smoothly. Sometimes we will be rising toward the heights-then all will seem to reverse itself and start downward.” How can one read this and not look at our current economic situation and think that maybe this is just the way of things? It is just so sad to watch the collateral damage in job loss with its worry and panic. When you or your loved ones are the ones suffering, it isn’t much consolation to hear someone tell you, “Well, that’s just the cycle of things.”
There was more to Roosevelts’ statement: “The great fact to remember is that the trend of civilization itself is forever upward, that a line drawn through the middle of the peaks and the valleys of the centuries always has an upward trend.” He was quoting Endicott Peabody when he spoke these words in his final Inaugural Address in 1945.
I suppose whether one sees this progressive thread or not is the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. I tend to be an optimist, myself. I see small signs that we are better as a people. I am hearing more sanity in news reporting, for example. I am not talking about political stuff, simply more thoughtful coverage of events. There will always be crazies but we can choose whether to listen to them. Lately, I have been avoiding extremists even if they are on my side. I just get sick of fear-makers.
Another sign that we are getting better is the way modern technology is making us safer. Think about how few lives have been lost in the fires. Not only are we getting better at fighting fires, but tracking them and communications are improving all the time. The same is true with other natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes, or storms. Reporting and tracking saves lives that would not have been saved in the last century.
There is more that makes me hopeful. Situations come up all the time that make me think, “Wow, this is way better than it was years ago.” I think people in general are becoming more tolerant. You can argue that point, but again, there are always the noisy crazies out there getting press.
I am headed into a new day. It is slighlty cooler today than it has been the last few days. Could it be that my attitude is effected by the weather? Today, positive. Tomorrow, a stormy day and I get grumpy again. Maybe this is the case, but I think Roosevelt’s observation applies as much to one’s own individual journey as it does to our country. As I go forward, I have my ups and downs, but I believe that there is a thread going through my life that keeps moving upward.