Editor: Pessimism is a luxury we can’t afford.

We have not earned the right to be pessimistic; it is a sedative if not an anesthetic. If people who have reason to be hopeless — take the throngs of people leaving their homelands, babies in their arms — to find a new life in a place where they have no roots, no language facility, no welcome mat, then how dare we who have the power to change our personal lives and even our society feel helpless?

I’m not shrugging off the frustrations that we have in our society. We have become increasingly oligarchic — money counts for too much in our political system and in our personal lives, with our obsession with material possessions. There seems to be little concern for people in need and our country’s infrastructure is in dire straits.

There is more evidence than ever that the growing gap between rich and poor is dangerous, that the curse of racism needs to be addressed more aggressively and creatively and that we must restore our commitment to pluralism that has made us the great nation that we are. We have enviable powers. Do we have the courage to use them?

I did not invent my aversion to pessimism; I learned it from heroes like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela and in particular, the distinguished African-American author, James Baldwin.

When Baldwin came back to the United States in the early 1970s after living in France for a number of years, he was met at the airport by a slew of reporters. One said, and I paraphrase, “Mr. Baldwin, we understand that you’re in a state of despair about the discontents and riots that have scarred our nation in recent years.” Without a pause he answered, “I can’t afford despair; I can’t tell my nieces and nephews that there is no hope.”

That’s a lesson learned.



Foe of pessimism