Pessimism and Powerlessness

What is the most dangerous threat in your life? In society at large? Is it economic stress? Job insecurity? Relational conflict? Health-care challenges? Amorality? Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan believes there is a deeper danger afoot (Thanks Darryl Lang for telling me about this op-ed!):

Inner pessimism and powerlessness. That is a dangerous combination.

Noonan says this just before the previous (and concluding line):

When the adults of a great nation feel long-term pessimism, it only makes matters worse when those in authority take actions that reveal their detachment from the concerns—even from the essential nature—of their fellow citizens. And it makes those citizens feel powerless.

She is trying to make the point that Americans are coming to terms that the country is not going to provide the next generation with a better life. Parents now hope their children will have about as good a life but they even fear that is not possible.

I’m not so interested in what she is discussing in this column (politicians and the immigration debate). But I am interested in what happens to us (how we respond to life) when our personal and collective narratives shatter.

Noonan mentions that Americans do not have pessimism in their DNA. I have seen this to be true  with most Caucasian Americans. They may be unhappy with their life but they are optimistic that things will get better. This is in opposition to those from other parts of the world who seem quite happy but not at all optimistic about a better life. We Americans generally feel empowered and independent. When we do not have the power to change our situation it drives us to re-write our understanding of self, the purpose of life, and assumptions about God.

What will we write? Will we cave to pessimism and powerlessness? Or will we develop realism and creativity in finding life in the middle of brokenness?


Filed under Christianity, Cultural Anthropology, Great Quotes, News and politics, Psychology, suffering

4 responses to “Pessimism and Powerlessness

  1. D. Stevenson

    I wonder if caving to pessimism and powerlessness is why some people kill themselves when they lose their wealth, health, or other.

    Or perhaps suicide for lesser causes, life stinks and there is nothing I can do about it, or life stinks and this is the only thing I can do about it.

  2. I think for Americans, we have very different ideas about what is a better life? Is it spiritual advancement, economic advancement or technological advancement? We can get better in one area and suffer greatly in the other area.

    • Well said. A better life to Americans can be very different from a better life to people of other countries. Having relatives in Europe, I know this to be true. Although they may not feel as empowered and independent as we do, I find they are grateful people who live with optimism and hope.

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