Our world is crumbling around us, but we can be the solution

Originally published in Utah Business.

Almost two years ago on NBC’s Meet the Press, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin commented on the unrest in our country by saying: “The thing that worries me is that [when you] attack [America’s] institutions… you are really attacking the rule of law and the checks and balances… the worry is, do the people themselves really understand how troubling this is… where in a riptide it could really roll us over.”

Well, the riptide is here. The combination of a pandemic, global recession, and social injustice have pushed America deep in the water and far away from the shore. We are swimming against the current and exhausted. There is no ocean floor to stand on, no floatation device, and no lifeguard. We are, as Goodwin warned, “rolled over.”

Feel free to disagree with me, but here is what I see as a middle-aged, middle-class, middle-of-the-road voter who yearns for a more perfect union. I see: 

  • A president who is a prince of discord
  • A congress incapable of solving problems
  • More and more Americans (mostly Republicans) who feel politically homeless
  • People increasingly retreating to the extremes (seemingly oblivious to how extremism creates more, not fewer problems) 
  • Marginalized populations suffering in disproportionate numbers
  • More anxiety and depression (made worse because of social isolation and uncertainty)
  • Common-sense, data-informed, job-promoting, and life-saving practices (like wearing a mask in public) during a public health emergency seen as a political clash.
  • The long arm of COVID-19 beating us down… day-by-day, job-by-job, life-by-life.

Before you start calling me Debbie Downer, know this about me: My mother gave me the gift of optimism, or what I prefer to call “applied hope.” While optimism treats the future as an assigned outcome, applied hope treats the future as a choice. Applied hope recognizes that we make the world better through our actions.Which begs the question, what choices should we be making right now? I have a few ideas:

Let’s choose to stop this pandemic where it starts: with aerosol particles emitted through the nose and mouth. Wear face masks to prolong lives and livelihoods.

Let’s open our minds, listen, and act to promote greater equality and opportunity. If you don’t see the problem, you likely are the problem.

Let’s demand more of our leaders, particularly in Washington, DC. Elect candidates who have a strong moral compass. That way you can not only feel confident about the big important decisions you see, but also the vast majority of decisions you don’t see.

And finally, let’s focus on solutions. We can complain and ruminate about the problems, or we can keep a steely-eyed focus on the answers. The answers right now start with personal responsibility and stretch towards unity.

New York Times columnist, Tom Friedman quotes a refugee from Zimbabwe who said: “You Americans kick around your country like it’s a football. But it’s not a football. It’s a Fabergé egg. You can break it.”

My spirit of applied hope tells me it’s not too late. America’s Fabergé eggs still have their precious metals and gemstones. Our constitution guides us. Our treasured institutions still set the standard for the world. If we take personal responsibility to make things better and live our motto of “e pluribus unum”―out of many, one―we can act on our hope and cultivate a world and nation worth being hopeful about.