May 12, 2013

In praise of optimism

Our nation has suffered a lot in this greatest recession since the Great Depression.

On top of this recent plight, rural regions in this country, especially in the North, have been suffering a gradual decline in population and livelihood ever since the recession of the 1980s. Our Adirondack Coast has suffered a bit less, despite the loss of a major air force base, partly because of our proximity to Canada. But, our relative good fortune has not translated into contagious optimism.

While we have escaped the fate of some other counties in upstate New York, we still have some great challenges. 

Visitors to our region often marvel about our ability to work together in the best interest of our region, across political lines. I am surprised, though, when some of our own community resent the efforts, the hope or the modest success of others. They sometimes become cynical and, worse yet, try to trip others up or engage in destructive competition.

The difference between constructive and destructive competition is easy to describe. We celebrate athletes who compete fairly to run faster, hit the ball farther or move more gracefully. We abhor those who do so by taking performance-enhancing drugs. Even worse, though, are the Tonya Hardings who try to triumph by harming a competitor.

No ethical or economic good can come from one who tries to hold back another. For the benefit of all, we ought to embrace competition and resist efforts to hold back other individuals or communities.

Our economy and society seems to go through cycles of pessimism and optimism. Perhaps in periods of economic misery, it’s just too easy for us to fall into a cynical trap. But a community wallowing in pessimism, or an entrepreneur who devotes energy to tripping up others, simply constructs a self-fulfilling prophecy. How do we grow, how do we pick ourselves up by our bootstraps, if we abandon hope and expect the worst?

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