Most of this week’s column was written by Paul Hexler, who was formerly with Cornell Cooperative Extension. I have edited it somewhat and added a few thoughts of my own. It has nothing to do with gardening.
By now, most North Americans have heard the phrase “Make America great again,” a popular slogan used by the Trump campaign. Regardless of how this saying might be construed or misconstrued, it’s natural that the thought of returning to a better point in time struck a chord with a lot of Americans.
I think many New Year’s resolutions have to do with the same idea: If we eat better, exercise more, give up tobacco, cut back on alcohol or greasy food, we hope to recover the ideal weight or physical strength we once had. Even if we never embodied the perfect figure or flawless health, we imagine a better self and would like to progress toward it. In general, this is a positive yearning.
Ushering a nation to a bygone era would be tricky. Take the US, for instance. In 1969, workers made twice the income they do today in real dollars. But there were race riots, and rivers which caught fire. In 1949, when the economy grew by 30%, some 60,000 children contracted polio. In 1900, the US had half the world’s industry and an average life expectancy of 48 years for women, 46 for men.
However, it’s a different story with us as individuals. As a person, we all had a golden age, and it is possible to recover some of its most precious qualities. Exercise and a proper diet and are good, but in my opinion are empty without basic aspects of our best selves.
Whether you believe that God created us as perfect, but unique reflections of a Divine image, or think that we are the product of four billion years of an exquisite biological process called evolution, or both, you have to admit we come into the world pretty darn great. OK, sure – we arrive helpless and need some looking-after. That’s a given.
We disembark from our mothers onto Planet Earth perfectly able to both receive and give love, capable of and eager to learn wonderful things. We come with a tremendous capacity – whether given through divine or natural means — for empathy and compassion. Every newborn shows up with an ability and desire to connect and bond with human beings. Any human beings. To an infant, everyone is acceptable, as they are to the world.
On the day of our arrival, we were capable of loving anyone, regardless of skin color, sex, or where they were from. On that day we were fully open to feeling worthy to be here and to take our place in the world. This is greatness.
God — or nature — sends us here in our perfect skin-color wrapping, with our perfect sex, into the region of the world, and to the ethnic group that is right for us. However, because of fears we are taught, we may find it comforting to project our insecurity onto a group who we see as different. Unacknowledged fear leads to distrust and suspicion, which leads to anger and hatred.
As a result of massive and unparalleled income inequality around the world, more and more people are suffering. Employment is no longer a relevant metric, as working families increasingly fall into poverty. Two full time parents working at minimum wage jobs earn just over $30,000 a year in America. Try raising two kids on that amount. It is no wonder people are afraid. The thing about fear is that it will own you if you don’t admit it. Here is an interesting fact: You can only be courageous if you feel scared first. This is not my opinion; it is the definition of courage.
The attraction of nationalism, racism, fundamentalism and other -isms at this time is understandable. Tragic, but fathomable. Blaming others — other countries, cultures, religions; you name it — for one’s problems anesthetizes fear. The fear doesn’t go away, it just gets Novocaine.
It takes a lot of bravery to acknowledge one’s fears. As more people open Pandora’s Box of fear and realize it won’t kill them, others will follow the example. It’s a slow process at first, and not adrenaline-filled like a hate rally, but once your fears come out, you no longer require the short-lived Novocaine of judgement and blame which will fail you time after time.
Hey, I’m scared, too. Think you can be brave? Admit your fears. Feel them, even though they are uncomfortable. Remember that you were born great. Reach for the Divine, original, real you. Make yourself great again.
Reach Bob Beyfuss at firstname.lastname@example.org.