The intersection of the coming of a New Year and the passing of the previous one offers all of us the opportunity to pause and reflect upon both what has transpired and what awaits us.
The opening lines of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem, Ring Out, Wild Bells, sums up what we all feel at this time of year:
Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Although the year 2015 by any measurable standard was a good one for America, there is a sense of unease in our country that no one — let alone the politicians — seems able to address.
But guess what? If you substitute “2015” for “2014” in that sentence, that is exactly what we wrote last year at this time. (We looked it up.)
So that leads us to ask this question: Has our world ever been without turmoil on a large scale? And in terms of us individually, are any of us ever without anxiety?
The opening line of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities fairly sums up the human condition at any given moment, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
As 2015 fades into 2016, one might gather from the headlines that a feeling of fear — which is a manifestation of anxiety — never has been more acute among our fellow Americans.
Yet if we step back and look at the big picture, we have to admit that compared to the events of the past 100 years, the America in which most of us awaken each day is pretty calm compared to almost any time that any of us can remember.
In 1916, the world was involved in a war that America would be joining within 18 months. Twenty years later, we were amidst the Great Depression and a few years after that, we were in WWII. The Korean War came a few years later and then the Cold War soon ensued, with the fear of nuclear annihilation on everyone’s mind — daily.
Amidst the prosperity of the 1960s there was Vietnam, but when that war finally ended in 1975, America entered a period of political turmoil and economic decline.
The 1980s are thought of as a prosperous era, but the made-for-TV movie, The Day After, a realistic depiction about the aftermath of an all-out nuclear attack, stands as the highest-rated TV movie of all time, with more than 40 million households tuned into it. Yes, it was a good film, but despite the feel-good era of Ronald Reagan, Americans were glued to our TV sets because of the perceived risk of mutual assured destruction that assaulted our senses every day.
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and Communist dictatorships in the late 1980s, America did indeed enter a time of peace and prosperity in the 1990s — a Goldilocks economy and few perceived threats — yet even then, there were terrorist attacks (the first World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City courthouse bombing) and there were genocides taking place in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.
The new century brought us 9/11, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — and now the terrorist threat posed by ISIS.
To be sure, the heinous attacks in France and San Bernadino this year have rattled our nerves, but the reality is that the chances of us being affected directly by any sort of terrorist action are far slimmer than being struck by lightning, or being caught up in the sort of random gun violence that is part of everyday life in America, or being run into by a drunk driver.
Yet to listen to some (i.e., all of the Republican candidates for President and the daily barrage from Fox news), one would think we are in a state of crisis greater than the threats posed by the Nazis, Communists, Japanese warlords, and every other enemy we have faced over the past few generations combined.
All of us need a therapist these days — perhaps that should be included in Obamacare — because never have the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt been more true, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
We wish all of our readers a happy — and anxiety-free — New Year.