Hope and its opposite for the new year


Broken-down optimism is the only optimism worth having. It makes sense, if you think about it.

You never know when an aggressive disease, a wayward bus or a malignant bullet might smash into your life or the life of a loved one.

To be alive is to court disaster.

Some lucky ones go from cradle to grave without catastrophe, so there’s a chance we can make it unscathed.

But we all know people in the path of the tornado – either real or metaphorical – who come out the other side. I’ve got friends and family who’ve survived great trials and gone on to string together very good days with surprisingly few forced smiles along the way.

If life is rosy and sweet for you, congratulations, but I suspect most understand what I’m getting at. Broken-down optimism is best exemplified by the Wallflowers’ song, “One Headlight.”

Here’s the chorus: “Hey, come on try a little/Nothing is forever/There’s got to be something better than/In the middle/But me and Cinderella/We put it all together/We can drive it home/With one headlight.”

I can see that car on a two-lane road in the rain at night. It’ll get where it’s going, but obstacles remain.

The driver might have to talk his way out of a ticket. One of the tires could go flat, but there’s a workable spare in the trunk.

It’s going to be all right, or as all right as it can be.

I’ve believed in broken-down optimism since before I had a name for it and before “One Headlight” became its theme song.

I’ve recently stumbled upon another idea: Everybody’s irrational, present company included.

It’s my firm conviction that we all do unreasonable things, no matter how reasonable we appear to be to ourselves or those around us.

Economists make their predictions by assuming human beings will act in their rational best interests, which is why economists score just slightly better than tax collectors, journalists and politicians on the least-liked list.

Scott’s Theory of All-Pervasive Irrationality might sound like too much broken-down without enough optimism, but that’s not the case at all.

Considering how thoroughly messed up our fellow humans can be, it’s amazing we’ve achieved as much as we have.

For the most part, we’re able to cooperate and build our lives side by side, even if our neighbors are naive liberals, holier-than-thou conservatives, or worse yet, unwilling to pick one way or the other.

We stand together, except when we argue.

We lift each other up, except when we knock each other down. We gather to celebrate and to mourn, except when we don’t.

It doesn’t make any sense to drive on a two-lane road in the rain at night in a car with only one headlight, but that’s all we’ve ever done, and we’ve made it this far.

M. Scott Morris is a Daily Journal feature writer. Contact him at (662) 678-1589 or scott.morris@journalinc.com.

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