January 8, 2011
I took up skiing in the Sixties when I was a varsity wrestler at Wittenberg U. in Ohio. On a bus ride back to Springfield, spied a sign that read "Ski Valley High in Bellefontaine." The area is now known as "Mad River" and offers a variety of rolling midwestern terrain, even a few steeps. I spent winter nights in the library doing research on skiing round the world. Within three years, JFK had stared down Krushchev with the missiles of October, the Peace Corps was introduced, JFK II saluted his Dad, our fallen president on Pennsylvania Avenue, and I had dropped out of college to become a VISTA Volunteer working in the slums of Oakland, California.
Back in those first years of skiing, I learned a crucial lesson. It is better to lean downhill and risk a forward fall than to fall backward--a common weakness among amateur skiers. VISTA workers were given a week of vacation, so I spent mine working for food and a bunkbed in Squaw Valley, skiing KT-22 on an old pair of ski. Such small details show how little we know about what our future will bring. Perhaps because I was born on New Year's Eve, I have always taken this ignorance of my future as a basic stance for living my life.
I believe Vaclav Havel meant exactly this when he wrote:
"HOPE is definitely not the same thing as Optimism. It is not the
conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty
that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
My fellow earthlings, what we need now is Real Hope--the kind that Havel talked about even as his "velvet" revolution was unraveling in the Czech Republic. This is,
it turns that same kind of "hope" [aka "change"] that elected an obscure politician as our President 26 months ago, and elected an even more unlikely candidate (Scott Brown) to replace Ted "Lion-of-the-Senate" Kennedy one year ago.
You don't need ESP to see that so far things have not turned out as many of us imagined they would! (Who, for instance, would have dreamed that America
would pass Health Care Reform after it had been fought so fiercely by Big Pharma companies and other powerful interests?) But, in the aftermath of the August '08 collapse of our financial system, things have turned out to be far worse than any optimist could have foreseen.
Look at what our media report this morning: The newest issue of Foreign Policy has a cover story on "American Decline: This Time It's Real":
Even more of a surprise comes now from Harvard Business School, the "West Point of Capitalism"[http://hbr.org/magazine]:
M.E. Porter and M.R. Kramer (authors of "Strategy & Society") acknowledge that Capitalism is under siege, if not broken. The best way to reinvent it, they argue, is by "Creating Shared Value". This echoes what was being attacked as " socialism" by Glenn Beck, Joe the Plumber, and other would-be economists ever since the collapse of Lehmann Bros., AIG, and other financial behemoths. Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary, argues that whatever "recovery" America is going through is too little and too late to make much difference.
Today, it is still better to lean into the future, risking a forward fall rather than a backward fall. To paraphrase the Kingston Trio, Glenn Beck, and Thomas Paine [though not in that order], "these are the times that try our souls."
Times like these require little more than hope, but opnly Real Hope will do. Without it we all fall backwards down a slippery slope of our own making.
David A. Buehler, PhD