These days can be really confusing. There are lots of things to make us worried:
Dealing With Covid:
Masks, Boosters, Vaccines, Schools, Businesses, Social Distancing, Mutations, Hospitals
Inflation, Global Supply Chains, Finding Workers, Finding Goods To Buy, Income Inequality
Remote Learning, Screen Time, Socialization, Vaccinations, Masking, Whether To Have Kids
Election Security, False Claims, January 6th, Polarization, Media, Lack Of Civility
Feeling anxious yet?
Ok, sorry for that. I’m guessing you think about a lot of these topics above EVERY SINGLE DAY, so I’m probably not saying anything new. The headlines, news feeds, tweets, and conversations are all around us, and making all of us (adults and kids) a little freaked out.
There are a lot of things that make us anxious. I don’t have answers for these worries, but since I've now been around a little while, I can tell you that I am sure of a few things:
- Whatever we worry about today will be replaced by other things tomorrow.
- While it seems like things only get worse, they do, in fact, often get better.
- We can change lots of things in our own lives; we have control.
- Sometimes what we today see as mistakes will be valuable lessons for tomorrow.
I am NOT saying problems just get solved on their own. It takes work and commitment for a society to fix problems. I'm only saying that the things we worry about tend to change as we fix problems and create new ones.
Skeptical? Take a look at the lists below. According to the pollsters at the Gallup organization, here are the topics Americans were most worried about over the past 25 years (the MOST worried-about topic is on the top of each column):
January 1997 January 2001 January 2005
Crime Moral Decline Iraq War
Illegal Drugs Education Health Care
Moral Decline Crime Unemployment
Economy Government Terrorism
February 2009 February 2014 January 2019
Economy Government Government
Unemployment Economy Immigration
Lack of money Unemployment Race Relations
Crime Healthcare Unifying the Country
And, most recently:
Yes, there are some recurring themes, but every few years we seem to worry most about something different. “Crime” was the biggest worry in 1997, and today it’s not even in the top four. We’ve been concerned most about “Government” for a few years now, but it was hardly on the radar twenty-five years ago.
Our personal lives are probably like this, too. What was your biggest worry 25 years ago? Would it even make the top four today? I don’t mean to downplay your worries back then or now; I’m sure they were/are serious and important. I'm just observing that we eventually get rid of those worries and replace them with others.
We are, in our DNA, problem-solving machines. Not always, and not perfectly, but we, individually and collectively, find solutions to our problems over time once we truly decide to solve them.
Many people who know me accuse me of being overly optimistic. That’s fair; I sometimes put too much faith in our ability to address and solve our problems. My counter is that I simply point to the evidence all around us in the fields of medicine, technology, service, economic prosperity, equality, justice. I recognize that they all have negative issues associated with them: disease, social media, low wages, income distribution, racism, a broken justice system.
Yet we work through these obstacles and find ways to use problems to spur new solutions.
Without problems, we don’t work to make solutions. Nobody ever solves a problem before it becomes a problem! We don’t build roads to solve non-existent traffic jams. We don’t invent life-saving vaccines for diseases we haven’t seen.
Look at the 1997 list again: while Crime, Illegal Drugs, Moral Decline and Economic issues all still exist, we have made massive progress on them relative to what they were back then.
Sure, we worry a lot about Government, Coronavirus, Economy, and Immigration today. These issues seem intractable. Yet more people voted in 2020 than ever before, we developed lifesaving vaccines and treatments for Coronavirus, the economy is doing very well if not necessarily for everybody, and we are now realizing we need to promote legal immigration in a way that makes sense to everybody. Solutions are waiting for us to find them.
Worry causes action. Let’s take action to solve these problems! Participate. Discuss. Support. But don't throw up your hands in despair. We are here to meet the moment we have been given.
There will be new things to worry about tomorrow.