The other day I posted the preface to the revised and expanded edition of my book Refuse to be Afraid, which begins:
“As this 2016 edition of Refuse to be Afraid is prepared, the major U.S. political parties have put up the two worst choices of my lifetime. To pick either one is to doom the United States government to four years of scary leadership, their ideas antithetical to the American standard of individual freedom and equality before the law.”
An old friend offered this comment: “I thought you were the eternal optimist. These words clearly convey a message of good old pessimism.”
Oh, perhaps those words are pessimistic, but they are an introduction to an introduction, and I chose the words carefully.
Yep, in the 2016 the two major political parties put up the worst choices of my lifetime. In fact, most people seemed to agree it was a dismal choice. I actually miss those days when most people agreed on that point; nowadays half the country seems to forget that their preferred party machine spat out a choice that was just as bad, a choice that in fact the majority of voters outside of California thought was scarier than the one who won.
“To pick either one was to doom the United States government to four years of scary leadership.” Yep. The thing is, and this is why I choose optimism, the United States government has been led by scary leadership for at least the last 25 years – and it could be I wasn’t paying close enough attention before that. The last quarter-century, one after another, the voters installed the worst president of my lifetime, if you set individual freedom and equality before the law as your standard as I do.
And yet, life went on. For the most part people lived their lives and pursued their idea of happiness mostly unfettered by the scary leaders of the United States government – which, by the way, is not the United States itself, because the government apparatus may be a product of We the People but is not, in the truest and most literal sense, the People.
In my neck of the woods, most of us are Green Bay Packers fans, and we like to talk about how “we” beat the Dallas Cowboys, for example. We all realize that a group of athletes defeated the Cowboys, but it feels good to say “we.” In the same sense when we talk about the United States government, sometimes people say “we” did something when they meant to say the government did something.
And so, my message is, you can spend a lot of time imagining that the scary stuff happening on that particular stage is going to hurt you, and maybe – maybe! note the use of the uncertain word – it will, but on a day-to-day basis the government really doesn’t affect your power to live your life one way or another. And of course, when I say refuse to be afraid of it all, I mean it’s OK to be afraid if you work past the fear in order to free yourself and pursue your dreams.
A person of faith said it this way: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I do know is the scary people want you to be afraid, because being afraid discourages you from drawing on that courage. One definition of courage is feeling the fear and doing what you need to do anyway. I think individuals have an inherent need to be free and can muster that courage. And so I choose hope.