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And Have the Wisdom to Know the Difference

As we head into the New Year, we are supposed to think about where we are going and where we have been. Is it a time for optimism or pessimism?  Everything we read today is filled with horror – I cannot find a positive headline on the front of the LA Times.  After all, if it bleeds, it leads. And sometimes, it doesn’t even have to bleed, a scraped knee will do.

Perhaps we should review the bidding.

We live in the best time ever to be alive. People living even at the poverty level live better lives than the Vanderbilt’s and Rockefellers of the 1800’s. They have cars, flat screen TV’s, smart phones, and in most cases homes with heat, AC, and indoor plumbing. Air travel has come down so much in price that it is within reach of the vast majority of Americans.  The Vanderbilts traveled on rail cars that often took days or weeks to get them from New York to San Francisco or Florida. We make the trip in a few hours.

Our lifespans have increased substantially. People were dying of the common cold, flu was a death sentence, and typhoid, measles, mumps, and whooping cough were childhood killers. Polio was epidemic. Smallpox was rampant. Kids born today will not fight those diseases. Let’s talk about micro surgery that means heart valve replacement and gall bladder surgery have almost become an outpatient procedure. In the 1850s, you just died. Got problems with cataracts? 20 minutes in the doctor’s office. Fixed.

Our food supply is such that the problem in America today is not starvation, but obesity.

World wide, we have been without a major war or conflict for longer than anytime in history. Although we have more people on the planet, fewer go to bed hungry than ever before. The diseases I mentioned above are on the run world wide.

Yet, with all these so called advances, we cannot pick up the paper or turn on the TV without screaming headlines telling us of the eminent demise of, well most everything. We cannot seem to get our arms around the positives of what is happening. The negatives sell paper and keep ratings high.

Fires have been horrible, but they are no more horrible than those that burned when I was young. In my first year at university, fire took out hundreds of the most expensive homes in Los Angeles’ expensive Bel Air neighborhood. I remember as a kid watching the hills around my town town burn and have the fire come to within half a block of my house. It happens.

When the fires are put out, the next headline is a screamer about how the upcoming rains will wash away the soil that was protected by the vegetation destroyed by the fire.

Its little wonder that with all our comfort, wealth, and good health, we are still bound in a psychological pretzel of worry about what is going to happen to us tomorrow.

Sages, going back to the Greeks, all report that happiness is related to knowing two things: Those things that we can change and those things that we can’t, and having the wisdom to know the difference. I read the other day that those things that we can change amount to about 1% of the choices presented each day.

If only that wisdom allowed me to accept those things I can’t change and get on with my life. I am so fortunate to live in this wonderful time. I can wish Happy New Year to friends half a world away in seconds, I can talk to friends across the street or around the world free through WhatsApp,   I can relax and be entertained at home, or at the mall, or in a theater. I can get my heart, eyes, ears, hips, knees, and the rest of my body fixed as never before. I carry a library’s worth of books to read in my pocket, listen to great music anywhere, any time. But everywhere I turn, I’m told by the news that life is hardly worth living.

I offer a solution for 2019. Turn off the news, don’t read the front page of the newspaper, stop the CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News feeds on your phone and computer. Live in glorious ignorance. Enjoy the wonders life has brought. Ignore the things you can’t change. I wonder how we will feel on this day in 2019 if we could do that.

I hope and pray that 2019 is safe, happy and prosperous for us all.

JVH

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