Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Best of Times

For the past year or so I've heard so many people telling me that we live in the worst times in all of history. Many people I know, some of whom are related to me, really believe that we are living in the "End Times" prophesied in Revelations.

"Look how terrible things are," they say, "Wars, disasters, the economy, disease, racism and poverty."

Everywhere I go people are whining gloom and doom. The world is coming to an end. We're all going to die and not just die, but die painfully.

"I wish I could just go back in time," someone said to me recently.

This person wanted to go back in time to escape the horrors of the present.

"Not me," I said.

"Why? It was so much better in the past."

"Were you there?" I asked.

"No, of course not," they said, "But it was great in the olden days. Everything is awful now."

This person was wrong on both counts. It was neither better in the past, nor is everything awful now. You think things are bad now, go back in time and you'll see some bad.

We live in the best of times. The present time, right now, is the greatest and best time the human race has ever known and we are all lucky to be alive right here and right now. Stop for a moment to be thankful.

The past was horrible and the people who think the past was so much better are ignoring history and idealizing it, creating their own fairy-tale that never really existed.

Anyone who thinks that the present is the worst time in human history clearly skipped class the day they learned about the Civil War, or the Holocaust. Speaking in terms of only the United States the Civil War era wins hands down for the worst time in America. You couldn't pay me to go back there. My vote for worst time in the entire world is probably World War II. On one hand you've got calculated, organized genocide all over Europe. On the other hand you've got atomic bombs on Japan, but to be fair the Japanese weren't exactly angels back then either. Ask the Chinese about that. During the 30s and 40s we had unprecedented mass slaughter and destruction on a worldwide scale. I have no desire to go back to that.

"But what about all the wars now?" some ask.

This isn't a new thing. There have always been wars. War is terrible, but I think we have a lot less of it than we did in the past and that we now have better negotiating skills to try to avoid it. Countries also have more incentive than ever to resolve conflicts sensibly. I admit that there are wars now and there will probably be more, but I'm optimistic that there are fewer of them and that war will continue to decline in the future.

How about all the disasters? There have always been disasters, natural and otherwise. Because of information technology we now know about disasters sooner. We can watch disasters happening live (which we seem to love) and we can see the aftermath of a disaster immediately. In the past this wasn't possible so it just seemed like there were fewer of them. A hundred years ago if there was a tsunami in Asia we wouldn't know about it in America, nor would anyone here have cared. Hundreds of thousands of people would still be dead but we wouldn't have had pictures and video and interviews recounting the horrors. Now we know when something happens around the world and we actually care. Many might argue that seeing disasters live desensitizes us and that we exploit tragedy. Generally, I disagree. I think seeing it creates empathy and urgency. When we see something we can't deny it. Now, because of technology and advances in transportation we can go help people all over the world. Medical technology can save people who would have been left for dead years ago. We have helicopters to evacuate people, planes to fly in relief, doctors who can save and TVs to show us how bad things are so that we can empathize and then hopefully help. So yes, we still have all kinds of disasters and we always will, but now we're better equipped to deal and to help.

And what about all the technology that's been developed to help predict natural disasters? Even fifty years ago we'd have no idea when a hurricane was coming (or a blizzard if you live in the north). Now we have plenty of time to prepare. We can't predict everything, but I think we're working on that and with the technology we do have, lives are really saved.

But the economy!!!!!

The economy isn't at it's greatest right now. I know. However, I feel like this is a correction and that our economy was over-inflated and out of control and that maybe some good can come out of the financial problems we're dealing with right now. First of all, too many people got greedy and were living and operating businesses far above their means. We became too materialistic. I mean really, do we need so many malls and mega-stores or gigantic shopping centers at every highway exit, flanked by seventy-five chain restaurants all offering Tyrannosaurus sized portions of fatty, sugary food? No we do not. I'm sad when people lose jobs, but we don't need all of this consumerism and mass consumption polluting our world. It has killed the creativity, drive and spark in so many people. I'm glad to see a lot of it go. We all got spoiled. Too many of us fell for the illusion of power and grandeur created by the pursuit and acquisition of a bunch of meaningless junk. Scaling back will do us all some good. We'll get through it. Maybe we'll learn to stop valuing meaningless clutter. Perhaps we'll begin to help one another and we'll come to stop wanting and wanting and wanting and taking and taking and taking.

At times this past year I felt like everyone I knew was ill. I felt like disease was everywhere. I can't count the number of times I heard conversations about cancer and other devastating, horrible diseases. Yes, we have diseases. People get sick and die and suffer and it seems so unfair and when they're gone we miss them so much, but think, in the past, even in the recent past, it was so much worse. Had I lived even a hundred years ago I would likely have been dead already, from an illness that's not such a big deal now. Before my genetic condition even appeared to kill me I could have died as a child from malnutrition, polio, small pox and even measles. I may have succumbed to tuberculosis or likely died in childbirth. Think of the advances we've made in medicine. Maybe some of the people we've lost, we would have lost sooner or they would have died in greater suffering with less dignity. In the past, even the most privileged members of society died from things like typhoid and cholera which are now rare and which we have come to only associate with the most destitute, primitive and most poorly developed places in the world. Because of medical advances so many of us have been spared suffering. People with infertility can give birth. So few of us have lost a child, or several children from common viruses.

I'm thankful for psychology, which is such a new science that has saved and improved so many lives. I wouldn't want to live in a world where the mentally ill were tortured, abused, misunderstood or said to be demon possessed. Now we have medications, therapies and just plain understanding for the mentally ill and think of the multitudes of people who can live functioning lives, contributing to society because of drugs and treatment instead of being locked, raving in attics to die in pain.

I like that as a woman that I have options in life and that I can make choices about what I want to do. I'm thrilled that women are allowed to understand their own bodies and how they work and talk openly about them without shame. I'm glad my father and husband never saw me as property and that it isn't legal for my husband to beat me. How great is it that I've been raised in a society that produced a man like my husband who would never dream of not contributing to the housework?

My mother, who is very young, can vividly remember the race riots burning even in small towns across America in the 60s. She remembers segregation, colored water fountains, lynch mobs and a world where black people and white people did not mix. I'm thankful that this is incomprehensible to me. For race issues alone, I am grateful to be alive now. I can't fathom that centuries ago one race of people thought it was acceptable to enslave another and to create, perpetuate and believe in a lasting mythology that said a group of people from another place, who looked and believed differently, were not human beings. And then they fought a war to preserve it! That is horror. Anti-miscegenation laws were horror. The way that even forty and fifty years ago it was socially acceptable to taunt, tease and terrorize, to caricaturize and infantalize men and women of different races, cultures, orientations and abilities is a horror.

We still have war, disasters natural and man-made. We still will have racism, disease and poverty, but in every area we have improved and we're continuing to improve. The time we live in now is truly the best time and we are all lucky to have been born when we were.

There are many serious and often overwhelming problems in our country and in the world. There are issues that frustrate me and worry me. I'm afraid of a lot, but I'm optimistic. Change takes a long time. It takes generations to alter mindsets and it happens bit by bit. Often we will stride forward and then slip back a little but eventually we get there. It's hard not to be impatient because we want it all now. We want it so badly. I know I do. There's a lot I'd like to be different even in my optimism. I also know that we can't always put a time limit on change and that Moses never made it to the promised land. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. couldn't live to see the inauguration of a black president. It's a sacrifice we have to make. Our ancestors sacrificed for us and each generation must take responsibility for its descendents. Don't give up on fighting for change just because you think you won't be around to see it or that it will never happen. It will.

There is one thing that I believe above all others and it is this. That everything is going to be ok and that really, it is more ok than we realize right now.

Looking forward at all the problems we face, the solutions may seem insurmountable or impossible. They aren't. When you look ahead, like a little kid on a road trip asking repeatedly if we're there yet, it seems like we've got forever left to go. Looking back though, you can see how far we've come.

We have come so far.


FreeDragon said...

For a while I've been feeling like I live in the worst times of my life. Now after reading your post I realize I feel that way because the economic future is uncertain. That is all.. I am not worried about disease or death. I don't even worry about terrorist attacks anymore. Now that I stop and think about it, in the grand scheme of things, money isn't THAT important. So thank you. I do feel better now.

CC said...

Amen. I've been hearing a lot of pesimists claim that this is it, the end of the world, grab your guns, prepare for riots! It's so silly that all I can do is shake my head. Our world and our race have overcome so much, much worse. We can (and hopefully will) overcome whatever obstacles we have now, too.

Cassandra said...

Well put! Thank you.

Kali said...

As a medieval historian, I can assure you, WL, that we do live in a better world than that whch prevailed 600 or 800 years ago. Even fifty years ago--remember those Warner Bros. propaganda cartoons in which Bugs Bunny openly made fun of the Japanese? Or the grossly insensitive retelling of Little Black Sambo?

Racism, poverty, disease, conflict: they will always be with us. And we can't stop too long to pat ourselves on the backl for being enlightened or technologically advanced.

But we should give thanks.

So thanks for reminding us!

Mattie said...

In all the commentaries I've listened to and read about today, I have to tell you that you have captured (IMHO) the essence of what today was all about.

Thank you for your well-written words.

kerry said...

You have exactly hit it. I don't want to live in any time other than now. I love now. It does, like you say, have its problems, but on the whole, I'm quite happy to live now.

Obama talked about unity, about the sacrifices our forebears have made. He talked about adult things and I cried. I've long seen our society as a nation of spoiled children, and I'm hoping this next four years sees us making progress toward being adults.

I cried at your post, too. It seems to be that kind of day.

Living in Muddy Waters said...

My parents had to drive through campus riots complete with tear gas and rampant fires to get to the hospital to deliver me 38 years ago.

My next door neighbor's daughter had pneumonia that would have killed her 100 years ago.

Salmonella was the norm, along with a great many other food borne illnesses instead of causing such an alarm as they are today, so you speak the truth about it being the best of times, Wide Lawns.

And thanks for the offer for help on my blog, but we have already been told our time is more than likely nearing an end. The official statement from the powers that be is "Hubby has sacrificed enough." But thanks anyway.

Star said...

Wow. I really needed to hear something like this today. You go, girl!

Lana Wood said...

Amen, me too, I amexcited to see what happens next.

caroline said...

I watched a movie earlier today (The Corporation) that made me feel discouraged about the state of our world. Thank you for this entry.. and for giving me hope.

Christi Lee said...

You are so right.

Paige said...

You know what gets on my nerves? People who WANT it to be the worst time ever. Why?

Like I said on my blog today, those people who are so sure that it is horrible and will not get better because we did not vote their way sicken me. They need to not enjoy the benefits of the good things that are coming. LEave that to those of us that WANTED things to get better and did more than bitch to make it so

sarah said...

We were sitting the other night eating an icecream when an annoying woman kept announcing to her friends "There are very tough times ahead. its just going to be so hard" over and over and over!

You dont have to buy into what the media is hyping up... things will be OK, and I totally agree - these arent the worst times we have ever seen! Its just that people are so spoilt theyve forgotten what its like to have to budget and think a little more about what they are buying!

Arwen said...

Thank you. I'm constantly telling people that they are living in a world where the rose-colored glasses only go on when it comes to the past. The past is not all that great. Look at a little more than 100 years ago. Most women could expect to die in childbirth, they didn't have the right to vote, neither did African-Americans. People often starved to death in the streets, more people lived in poverty than not. Even reading the Little House books... Pa was gone months and months at a time, they didn't know if he was alive or dead. Their whole town almost starved to death one year. We are blessed. We are living in the dawning of a new era. People who are afraid of change seem to want to hold on to the past because they forget that all the heroic books about those eras were written by the wealthy and educated who didn't have nearly so many indignities as the poor. Also, people didn't talk about the bad things that happened... people got raped, molested, pregnant out-of-wedlock, murdered, etc... just as often (if not more so) as now, they just didn't talk about it or advertise it.

Laurie said...

GREAT post! I totally AGREE!

Anonymous said...

Six years ago I almost died giving birth to my son. Almost. Thanks to blood transfusions and all kinds of medical equipment (not to mention the experience of the doctors and nurses) I am alive today to watch my son grow up. Even a few decades ago I would have been dead (and my son might have died as well). Whenever I get depressed and think that the world is going to sh*t I remember that I am alive today thanks to the world being a better place now than it ever was before.

MtnMama said...

Just for hot showers, gentle lathering sweet smelling soap, refrigeration and electricity, and so many other things that make our lives SO much more pleasant than they would be otherwise.

I am so very grateful to those who went before me so that I can - as a woman - chose to live by myself, have a bastard child that no one thinks twice about, work in any field I am capable of and make a decent salary, travel and live and go about my business at my own pace without being constrained by anyone else, and be as outspoken and free as I am, and to NOT be considered a criminal or an outcast or dangerous or crazy.

It IS better now than any other time.

And I'm happy about toothbrushes, too...

Wide Lawns said...

Oh you are so right. I could have written an entire essay about how Im glad to live now just for personal hygiene items. Including tampons. I don't even want to imagine a 19th century period.

BoB said...

think about where we're going, too

get psyched for the next fifty years

Kirsten said...

Amen, sister!

sallyacious said...

I keep trying to make comments that are in the same thoughtful vein as your post, and I keep failing miserably. So I'm just going to stand here and point at you and say, "What she said."

Jamie said...

Thank you for saying what I feel. I hear so much from people who think that the end times are near (and I'm not particularly religious, on top of that) that I just want to scream. There is still so much good out there, so much love, so much hope, that to think that humanity has sunk so low that a creator would want to destroy it is incomprehensible to me. I can't understand it.

Things are no worst now, than they have been before. We are more equal, more accepting and freer than we have ever been. Disasters kill more people now because there are more of us. Diseases are more sophisticated because we are. War is present, but people are safer now than they have ever been. We know there is evil out there, and we work to stop it before it spreads too far.

Yes, things are bad. Yes, I'm graduating law school this year (from a top 10 school) with no job prospect in sight and $200,000+ in student loan debt. But it's just money, things will get better, and I'm willing to make sacrifices.

MamaD4 said...

Extremely well put!

As the wife of a sailor (and one headed downrange soon) I just want to say one other thing about war: yes, it's terrible. I wish every day that these conflicts we're in could be resolved, but it's going to take time. What I want to say is this: thank God for advances in warfare that spare life, that allow weapons to be used more effective (vs just dropped on an entire city). I feel for every family out there who has lost a soldier, sailor, airman or marine in these conflicts, but in reality, casualties are very low. Consider that at the Battle of Gettysburg, almost 35,000 people lost their lives. In ONE battle.

Nope, I'll stay right here in 2009!

KT said...

Here, here! Agreed on all counts -- and I will never understand how my grandmother, who lived through WWII and the Civil Rights Movement and Vietnam, can consistently say that these are the worst times in history. I mean, come on.

Fancy Schmancy said...

Amen, well said.

Joy said...

Excellent post! I also have many relatives who believe that these are the end times. Some are gleeful about it. Sigh.

I am grateful to live here and now. You are so right about our collective population being like spoiled children and needing to be like adults. Taking responsibility will help us change and grow.

Thank you for such a great blog. and thanks so much for stopping by mine and leaving me a comment. I was thrilled. ;)

JoeinVegas said...

Listening to music on my IPhone, driving my car that is warm and starts every time, to a supermarket full of fresh produce and all kinds of things from all over the world, picking up my prescriptions that keep me going and feeling a lot better, to a warm dry house with lights and TV and refrigerator full of food: come on, wasn't it better 100 years ago?

Anonymous said...

Back when I was studying costume design, I read an interesting comment by fashion historian. Somebody asked her about corsets and how women could stand to wear them, and she said something like, "If you had lived in the Victorian era, your teeth would be hurting so much you wouldn't even notice your corset."

That really put things into perspective.

Gayle said...

Preach it! Every time someone talks about the "good ole days," I start to think about women who were legally raped, children who were sold into slavery, and gross, willful ignorance about the world at large. Terrible things (like child slavery) still happen in the US, but you are so right -- we are starting to see positive shifts in society. I'm tired of focusing on the end of the world. That will come soon enough. Today, our hope for a better tomorrow is enough. Maybe our children will see the results of our labors, too, just as we are seeing the results of those who worked before us. Being able to see that progress in action is a blessing.

Student/Teacher said...


Heather said...

I agree with you. I am so very satisfied, and willing to work to make things even better than they already are. I am grateful that I have what I have, and that I can give to others.

I am also an optimist, though, so I almost always see things this way!

RP said...

Speak it, sister!

LegalMist said...

A beautifully written, well-thought out, and absolutely correct post!

We really do live in amazing times, and so few stop to appreciate that.

You should submit this to Newsweek "My Turn" or the NY Times op / ed pages. I bet it would be printed, and lots of people really need to hear this message.

Erin said...

I heart you. I completely agree. Every generation says theirs is the worst, hardest, toughest, whatever. We pick up and move on, and we're stronger for it.
Great post!

Michelle said...

What a wonderful post!

Anonymous said...

Here Here!!!

My mom also saw what your mom saw, and I think my mom is predjiduce.... but she has never projected it on me in any way, and I think she knows that even though she feels that way... it is wrong, and I can be different... and I am. And I can't wait to see how my kids approach it all!!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for writing this much-needed message. You are an AMAZING writer and I thank you for sharing this gift with us.

Sadi said...

Thanks for the uplifting post, I really needed it this week.

I'll add 3 I'm thankful for in our modern times; tampons, midol and easily accessible chocolate! :-)

Sarah said...

Bravo! Thank you for writing what I have always thought. It feels good seeing this today.

Amy said...

Very well said!

foxymoron said...

Hey World!

Wide Lawns has spoken!

booda baby said...

It's always so strange to me how little empathy we really have. It's bad enough we can't imagine history from our cushy modern comfort, but we have a hard time envisioning what it's like to live in any other circumstances than a pretty thriving democracy. I mean, really. We don't even try to imagine it.

Well, except for lately. I think it's good for us to experience it - not as a punishment of any kind, but it really goes a long way towards that empathy thang.

Anonymous said...

Ms. TheBestOfTimes,

If I might be permitt'd to add my thought on the matter, it would seem that wise Solomon was of the same opinion as your good self, concerning that belief in the 'good ol' days' as indicat'd by his words at Ecclesiastes 7:10:

Do not say: “Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?” for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.

I remain,
Your most humble & obedient servant.
Colonel Brandon.
Nature Diary

Miss Kitty said...

Excellent post, WL, and MUCH food for thought. Your writing just bowls me over.

Metro said...

Came along late and delurked to say: Fuck, yeah!

I get so bloody tired of hearing folks whinging about how awful things are.

Cheer up, you! Would you prefer just about any time prior to 1950? When the normal condition of the human animal was "Slightly ill" for the vast majority of it's 60-year-max span?

Corrinne said...

I love this post. I am sorry I keep commenting on old posts. I do this to all the bloggers I fall in love with because I read all their archives immediately =)

I love that you mention psychology. I am in college for my Bachelor's in Psych and eventually a Master's. My main interest is that there is still so much MORE to learn. Granted, we know so much more than we did a century or even 25 years ago. There is so much more good we can do and I hope I can be a part of that. I see psychology doing bigger and better things in the near future.

Also, my wonderful, neurotic fiance is convinced the world will end in 2012. lol He has seen too many discovery channel specials... *sigh* Maybe I'll be eating my words in a few years but I tease him endlessly for it.

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