“You’ve got to accentuate the positive,
Eliminate the negative,
Latch on to the affirmative, and
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between.
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum,
Bring gloom down to the minimum,
Have faith… or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene.”
Written by Johnny Mercer for Bing Crosby in White Christmas
America has always been a place of optimism, maybe at times even over-optimism. We are the “Can Do” people. We have always believed in opportunities, taking on big problems and solving them. When we set our mind to it, we achieve what others only dream.
I remember in 1961 when President Kennedy said that we would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. When he made that promise, we had only just achieved a sub-orbital flight by Alan Shepard. To leave our atmosphere, travel to the moon, and return was almost beyond imagining. It was an ambitious vision, some said a profoundly over-ambitious goal. Yet just over eight years later in the summer of 1969, we gathered around our televisions to watch as Neil Armstrong made his “one step” and humankind’s “giant leap” into space.
It seems to me that we are in a wrestling match right now about America’s vision for itself and its leaders vision for us. I believe as individuals and as a country the Proverb “without vision, the people perish” applies, and I believe vision has to be positive, a forward-look that will carry us into a brighter future. True vision is never a backward glance, a yearning for the impossible hope of re-capturing the perfect past.
It is easy to talk about and all too easy to believe in a cherry picked view of an idyllic past. We all have selective memory about those shinning moments, those golden days, and gloss over our past failures, pain, and wrong choices.
The same is true for the country. Through rosy colored lens, we replay an edited version of the perfect 50s and forget that we had glass ceilings, legalized discrimination, and lynchings then; how easily we remember the idealism of the “ask not what the country can do” 60s that led to the Peace Corps, but also to protests of the morally ambiguous Vietnam War, Watergate, and race riots; the 70s got us out of the war, but into the “Me” decade, rising oil costs, and the Iranian hostage crisis; the 80s saw the ending of the Cold War, but the beginning of internationalization and the move of jobs out of America, as well as huge budget deficits and Tiananmen Square; the 90s saw the break-up of Soviet Union, but the rise of terrorism and the first attack on the World Trade Center; the 2000s saw increased the rise of al-Qaeda, the 2001 terrorism attacks, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Banking Crisis and Great Recession, yet the election of the first African-American.
The past held successes, but was far from perfect…except in romanticized memory.
Acknowledging that doesn’t mean that I think we should bemoan the mistakes of our past. Negativity never accomplishes anything. I don’t even believe trying to merely fix our mistakes is the answer. Though we can learn from them, we cannot retrospectively make things ideal. I am suggesting quite the opposite.
In fact, what I believe we need to do to move forward to a better future is to do what Kennedy did. We need to set positive, almost unachievable goals and reach for them. We need to ask, “What is the next “moonshot” for our country? What is the future dream for us as individuals?”
Once we answer those questions, we have to set our goals, and then, just as importantly, we have to believe we can achieve them.
That is what sets America apart. That is what has made the American dream a reality. We dream big and we believe in our dreams. Then, we achieve them.
Ambivalence, second-guessing our vision, and backward looks at the falsely idealized past keep us in the embrace of Mr. In-Between where we get stuck…if not turned into pillars of salt.
That is no man’s land….and sadly, that is the place where too many live. It is not an answer. It is a trap. You can’t move forward looking backward, and you can’t get where you want to go without an idea of where you’d like to be.
We need to move beyond our past to live in the future.
Yesterday, Doug and I watched a music video of one of our newer favorite groups singing Dana Lamb’s “You Should Dream.” The Texas Tenors are a great group. If you haven’t heard them they are amazing and you can listen here to the song (You Should Dream) whose lyrics capture the thought behind this post so well:
Tell me who hasn’t felt lost when you’re not where you thought you oughta be,
Tell me who hasn’t felt discouraged by their reality.
Tell me who hasn’t walked a thousand miles just to find they’ve gone the wrong way.
Tell me who hasn’t thought tomorrow’s just another day,
But I’m telling you the tide is gonna turn,
The doors will open when you finally learn…
You should dream,
Let the voice inside you sing.
You should dream,
Let your wishes take wing.
Close your eyes,
Find your hearts desire,
Hold on tight and set the world on fire,
Be the living reason for all to see.
You should dream!
America really is the land where dreams come true. We need to dream. It’s what carries us forward. It’s what makes futures possible. It’s what makes us great as a country and it’s who we really are.