Midway through the last several election cycles I have found myself on the verge of depression. The talking heads on television make me want to take a tire iron to my skull. Both sides exhibit a shameful lack of civility in discourse. And the subjects up for debate are abundant and discouraging national imbroglios that both parties claim to be able to remedy, but that neither has put right as of yet.
An election year provides worriers and cynics with a veritable smorgasbord of complicated predicaments over which to fret. For many, if not most Americans, the lackluster job market resides, at the top of the "Things that Stink" list. But just below the job crisis elephant sits the elephant that is health care, which balances on the elephant that is the environment, which sits atop the elephant that is education and the elephant that is infrastructure and the elephant that is immigration. The elephant in the room has become a herd, and the herd can no longer be contained in the room. You'd be crazy not to be depressed.
Many years ago I interned for a psychology professor at Northwestern University who published a research paper about depressive realism. His conclusion, and the conclusions of many other researchers who followed him, is itself depressing. Depressive realism posits that depressed, pessimistic people have a more accurate perception of reality than non-depressed, optimistic types. Depressives lack the ability to overlook and rise above the very real, very negative aspects of our world. They are unable to cope with the vicissitudes of ordinary life because they lack the "rose-colored glasses" that imbue their counterparts with an optimism bias.
Ordinarily I am an optimist, and I certainly want to vote for one. Screw reality. Our children and grandchildren's futures are at stake. Those who achieve greatness are optimists above all else. They believe greatness can be achieved. They believe monumental changes can be made for the better. Where would we be if Martin Luther King hadn't had a dream, if FDR had warned, "We have a plethora of things to fear in addition to fear itself," if Gloria Steinem believed that fish do indeed need bicycles?
Aside from the fact that optimism just feels better, I consider an optimistic outlook to be my moral obligation to my children and grandchildren. I owe it to them to believe we can do better, to believe that someday all children will receive a decent education, that we will figure out how to conserve water for future generations, that cancer and Alzheimer's can and will be cured, that common courtesy won't go the way of the typewriter, and that some day we can all just get along.
Optimism is one of the forces that spur people to action. Without it, our primary motivating force is fear. Unfortunately, fear seems to be getting the upper hand. Panic has become the impetus that propels our election process forward. We are hounded constantly that voting for "the other guy" will lead to cataclysmic consequences and that only your vote for my candidate will stave off Armageddon.
Presidential candidates always make me cringe. The process makes asses out of everyone. But I have to believe, for the benefit of future generations, that democracy is worth the long slog to November. I have to believe the world can survive the heat waves and the European debt crisis and reality television and even a president I would not have chosen. If Anne Frank could insist, "despite everything people are really good at heart," I can certainly keep my spirits up in an election year.
My granddaughter's favorite game involves taking my reading glasses from my face and putting them on hers. I hope she's noticed they're rose-colored.