Golis: A child is born and we think about what’s possible
We welcomed a new granddaughter into our family last week. She arrives just in time for Christmas, a happy reminder that everything will be OK.
With her as inspiration, we celebrate our blessings and wish again for a world that resolves to be more generous and hopeful.
Without citing chapter and verse, these have not been the best of times for the American sense of opportunity and purpose. The country just marked the passing of a former president, George H. W. Bush, who once was mocked for urging people to be “kinder and gentler” - as if kindness was reserved to the naive and the gullible.
Cynicism, of course, feeds on itself, robbing us of our ability to recognize progress and to separate the good guys from the others. When everybody is thought to be stupid and corrupt, there will be no prospects for a better future, and we will live in a constant state of gloom.
For now, Americans are divided by race and region, age and gender. And, too often, our politics is defined by the enmity of a few.
Still, there is this new baby in our family, and she comes into our lives to remind us of the opportunities that come with new beginnings.
She is fortunate to be born into a loving and supportive family, one with the means to give her many of the advantages of life. Here's wishing she never takes it for granted. Not every newborn is so fortunate.
So, what else do we wish for her - and for every newborn child?
We wish for her the confidence to know that all things are possible.
We wish for her an understanding of the ideals that made this country what it is - freedom, majority rule, the rule of law, active citizenship. The future of the republic depends on it.
We wish for her the humility that leads to respect for others.
We wish for her compassion for people in need, whether they be poor or sick, despondent or lonely. At some point in our lives, every one of us will need help.
We wish for her the ability to know the difference between what's real and what's made up. Technology has brought us many useful tools, but the list won't include the rush of melodrama, gossip and fiction that turns up on the internet and on what we call cable news.
We wish for her the capacity to be comfortable with change. For better and for worse, the world is always changing. It's just changing faster now. (When she gets older, our granddaughter will be shocked to learn that people once survived without smartphones and Netflix.)
Finally, we wish for our granddaughter to be graced with a generous spirit. Selfishness and greed have come to define too much of American life, but selfish people are seldom happy. For them, there's never enough to be satisfied.
In other ways, the usual grandparents' advice applies: Get an education. Exercise. Eat your vegetables. Learn a second language. Don't fly your kite in a lightening storm. Make your way in life with a sense of fun and adventure.
While there is work to do in advancing the human condition, there also is much to celebrate. Advances in medical research mean we live longer and healthier lives. (In 100 years, the life expectancy of the average American has more than doubled.) The air and the water are cleaner. Advances in technology have made our lives happier and safer. Old prejudices about gender, sexual orientation and race are fading away. Around the world, child mortality, famine and poverty rates are declining.
In his new book, “Enlightenment Now,” the Harvard professor Steven Pinker writes about the pessimism and cynicism prevalent in today's culture: “… this bleak assessment of the state of the world is wrong. And not just a little wrong - wrong wrong, flat-earth wrong, couldn't-be-more wrong.”
If we are kind and generous and tolerant, everything will be OK. In the words of the hymn, let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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