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April 20, 2009
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A Future of Optimism

The current state of the global economy does not mix well with the resulting sense of individual uncertainty in the lives of everyone on the planet. The annoyance of reading about anomalies like million-dollar bonuses or taxpayer bail-outs and threats of the loss of control of mortgage and credit card payments is helping induce a widespread sense of pessimism. 

Sadly, pessimism is apparently one of the food staples of the mass media. Even though the size of newspapers seems to be shrinking significantly as part of the economic turbulence we face, there seems to be more and more space taken up by stories of the death and dismemberment of individuals’ retirement plans, store bankruptcies, the latest lay-off announcements, and “exposes” of waste and excess. If left untreated, the blight of pessimism spreads and does great harm to our hopes and dreams.

An array of statistics which AARP published should help us focus on the fact that the future is a bright place to be anticipated with optimism, challenge and opportunities for innovation.

For example, 100 years ago infant mortality in the U.S. stood at a rate of about 10 percent. In other words, one in 10 babies died during or soon after child birth. A hundred years later that figure is at about two-thirds of 1 percent. Life expectancy was about 40 years of age for men and 49 for women whereas it is about 76 and over 80 years, respectively, today. Advancements in medicine lead to the prospect that, if people pay attention and accept personal responsibility for their own futures, life expectancy could increase by half again. Who among us would not want to be able to attend the college graduation of a great-great grandchild? That unimagined prospect is now within our grasp.

The number one cause of death in this country 100 years ago was pneumonia and influenza. Today influenza is number eight on the list but is often particularly problematic for people with other health conditions.

What is different today is the presence of conditions such as diabetes on the top killer list which never made it to the list 100 years ago. Diabetes is sometimes a disease of lifestyle. It can relate to obesity and the difficulty of accepting personal responsibility for how much time we should spend exercising, eating better, not smoking and generally being more engaged with each other. Rather, we watch TV and net surf from the comfort of our La-Z-Boys.

Another sign of the amazing changes in our lives is that 100 years ago, 95 percent of all births occurred at home, whereas even 50 years later about that same percentage of births occurred in far better equipped hospitals.

If amazing changes in our past history are indicators of the future, we have a great many reasons to look ahead with optimism to a world of opportunities which we cannot even dream of today.

The keys to realizing the amazing possibilities ahead rest in not being afraid to dream about what the future could be like, acting now to reduce risk and taking steps to realize the possibilities and being personally accountable for our own lives and the lives of people we care about.

If we do these things, our attitudes and our actions will emerge out of pessimism, and our communities will be more engaged to be more productive. We will not only escape the current difficulties sooner, but we will lessen the chances of even greater trouble ahead.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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