Aerodynamically, the bumble bee should not be able to fly... but the bumble bee never studied aerodynamics so it goes on flying...
~Mary Kay Ash
I recently found myself in an airport waiting patiently for my plane to board as I headed out on vacation.
As I sat down in the waiting area, I picked up an old discarded newspaper lying on the seat that I was hoping to occupy.
As I sat there, I read through some of the articles whose headlines I found mildly interesting.
One such article seemed to catch my eye. The headline simply read, "Americans are overwhelming pessimistic".
As I read the piece, it seems that a respected professional polling company, Gallup, surveyed over 1,000 people
and asked them a simple question: In general, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going in America at this time?
To my amazement, 82% of the people responded that they were dissatisfied with how things are currently going!
I thought to myself... I must be living in a complete bubble because a lot (if not all) of my friends, business associates and general acquaintances all seem to be bullish at the moment about where they are in their lives... especially when compared to where they were during the great recession of 2008.
Economically there seems to be only good news.
- Unemployment is down significantly from 8 years ago (currently below 5% nationally)
- Manufacturing and productivity is up
- Corporate profits and the stock market are hitting record highs
- The dollar is as strong as it has been in decades
- Housing prices are now as high as or higher than they were pre-recession
- Oil prices are down (lowering transportation costs)
- Interest rates are at record lows.
So the pessimism shouldn’t stem economic issues...
Perhaps it comes from violent crime and matters of public safety. Violent crime includes homicide, rape, armed robbery and aggravated assault.
As it turns out, according to FBI statistics, violent crime in America hit its high-water mark in 1993 with 79.8 violent crime victims per 1,000 people.
Over the last 3 years, the crime rate has been relatively flat at roughly 40 violent crime incidences per 1,000 people.
Therefore actual violent crime is very close to half of what it was 20 years ago.
So maybe it’s the threat of terrorism that is the root cause of the dissatisfaction.
In 2015, according to various reports, there were approximately 35,000 deaths due to terrorist attacks. 79% of all terrorist attacks where confined to 5 countries, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Contrary to news reports, the number one terrorist organization in the world is not Isis, Taliban, or Al-Qaeda, in terms of actual attacks or deaths. It is Boko Haram, a Nigerian Islamic group intent on spreading Islam to West Africa.
While 35,000 world-wide terrorist deaths are indeed tragic, in 2014, there were 32,675 fatalities due to traffic accidents in the United States alone. Worldwide, it is estimated by the World Health Organization that there are over 1,200,000 automobile related deaths each year.
I am not, in any way, trying to discount the lives of 35,000 victims of terrorist activities. This threat is growing and is quickly spreading beyond the war zones of the Middle East and Africa. It is only a matter of time before it reaches the shores of America (according to some it already has... 9/11 not withstanding).
So if the pessimism isn’t really rooted in actual economics or security... what is causing it?
There are several other possible factors such as racial tension and unrest, a growing drug culture, an aging population, and a systemic distrust of our government...
This great malaise is being caused not by the facts or reality... but rather the perception... that America is doomed (or was better sometime in the recent past).
The 24-hour news cycle, the Internet and social media, government leaders (including want-to-be leaders), and talk-radio have all conspired to create fear and uncertainty among the population.
Each and every day we are being told by these people that our lives are in great peril... that the idea of truth and justice are dead and that everyone (other than them) is lying... that our "good jobs" are being taken by immigrants or being shipped to international destinations.
Our movies and television shows romanticize war, drugs, and vigilantism... while our new villains have become corporations, government officials, and law enforcement.
The messages that we clearly hear each and every day no longer help to inspire us to become better people and/or how to make our world a better place but rather they tell us how bad things are and how afraid we should be.
These messages then get amplified and reinforced by those using social media... with our friends propagating "facts" that they’ve learned through their trusted sources (which many times are just the opinions of other people).
In many cases, these so-called "facts" are nothing more than rumors, myths, opinions and/or innuendos... but people want to believe them.
After years of hearing these negative and false narratives, our subconscious minds start believing that there is no hope for a better future...
After reading the newspaper article, I was very skeptical about their report that 4 out of 5 people are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, so while in vacation in Yellowstone last week, where there was a great cross-section of Americans, I asked a multitude of strangers the same question.
Amazingly enough... I came up with nearly the same results... about 80% of the people I posed this question to were in fact pessimistic about the direction of the country.
I then asked each of those responding in the negative one follow-up question:
What can be done to change the direction of the country?
In almost every instance, the response was simply, "I have no idea... but something definitely needs to be done".
The really funny thing to me is that the people I talked with seemed to be genuinely very happy and positive (why not... they were on vacation).
Is it possible then to be extremely happy and positive about our own personal lives despite all of the supposed danger and turmoil that surrounds us?
I am of the belief that people are generally optimists (or want to be) but that unending stream of negative messages strip away that optimism and hope.
We need to create positive messages for ourselves... we need to be grateful for all that we have... we need to carry forward the ideas of hope, generosity, and self-determination...
All is not lost... and never let anyone tell you it is...
Americans are fortunate enough to live in a place that is abundant with prosperity... freedom... and unlimited opportunity.
The future is as bright as ever... for ourselves and for the generations behind us...
Now, if only we can just remember that the next time a pollster asks us the question...