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By John Pierce

Cousin Pearl would call my mother to express her high anxiety over “the way things are going.” Her alarm was not surprising; she was getting old and spending too much time watching daytime television.

My mother would listen to her long lament, then offer this remedy: “Then stop watching Geraldo.”

That was in the ’80s. Pearl and Mom are gone now — and Geraldo Riviera still lingers in the shadows of television.

An even older relative, whose letters I once found, would write to my aunt about how bad things were getting in the ’60s. The problem had to do with African Americans gaining the same rights as everyone else.

One can go to any point in human history and find those who romanticize some segment of the past and worry over the “way things are going.” Doom gets predicted, again and again.

All sociological change, it seems, is worrisome to some.

Alarmist preachers and others have been telling us for longer than we have lived that “America is descending into Hell” over whatever is happening at that moment that they don’t like.

Often, it is nothing more than the personal disappointment in seeing that one’s own politics of fear and discrimination are not winning the day. So judgment is called down on those that are feared.

Slipping on the rosiest of glasses, these alarmists declare how wonderful things were “back then” (even though “back then” was once considered a worrisome time) and how awful things are headed now.

Uttering some forthcoming of God’s judgment as part of their fatalistic cries seeks to give more legitimacy to their hallow warnings. Also, it helps mask their fears as well as the realities of the issues they overstate and find so threatening.

Each era brings its own concerns and challenges as technology grows and society changes. But I don’t buy the notion that America is descending into Hell in some wholesale fashion today and needs to return to whichever time an alarmists chooses — knowing that other alarmists back then were warning that America was descending into Hell.

Such warnings are often ploys to rally other fearful people to a particular cause — whether it’s opposing equal rights for whichever group is perceived as threatening at the time or another issue in the news. And this repeated generational alarmism appears to be timeless.

There is a more honest approach. It involves calming down and admitting that many fearful warnings over social unrest in the past, and young people resisting authority, didn’t actually destroy our nation.

And that extending constitutionally promised equality to those who were formerly excluded from such rights by law didn’t bring the promised demise. (Pick any group and era.)

So I quickly scroll past such fatalistic online postings from modern-day alarmists. And I delete emails such as a recent one from an alarmist preacher who claimed that “the USA is descending fast” — due to the familiar litany of gay rights, “turning our backs on Israel,” and so on.

Spare me your alarm. However, honest and reasoned assessments are needed — and are found somewhere between Pollyanna and religious/political alarmists.

Taking a thoughtful, constructive approach to change helps us identify and address the real challenges of the day — while admitting that many sociological and technological changes that were once feared have actually made this a pretty darn good time to live in America.

However, it is easy to see why some people are so worried and riled. Handling defeat in the public arena is hard for alarmists who have tied their opinions to “God’s truth” — shifting the loss from a personal one to one that calls out the wrath of the Almighty.

Perhaps there will always be those who wring their hands and lament “the way things are going” — although there is nothing constructive in that defeatist perspective that sees the past as better than it was, the present as worse than it is, and the future as something to always fear.

Continually hearing that the sky is falling will cause the wise person to stop looking up. And there are such better options to fatalistic alarmism.

Here are a few:

Face one’s own fears with faith.

Confess that every change once condemned and feared didn’t turn out so bad.

Separate one’s own opinions and disappointments from God’s will and wrath.

Honestly acknowledge the challenges to be faced by every generation.

And turn off Geraldo.

 

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