In A Perfect World
Humanity has an uneasy relationship with the future.
The reason for that is that the critical question about tomorrow is one that can only be answered once we get there. And that question is: friend or foe? Will tomorrow grant me all my heart’s desires… or pull the rug out from under my feet?
Right now, there are groups in this country—in particular, college-age kids who have bought into the media’s fear-mongering messages of gloom and doom—who believe that the world will end in approximately twelve years unless something is done about global warming.
At the same time, there is an active movement toward “social justice” which trumpets the cause of redressing past social crimes in order to render the future more equitable for all. They are bent on achieving a tomorrow that is more enlightened than today, and certainly than yesterday. Ironically, the same basic group of people is pushing both of these agendas—the fearful and the forward-looking—at the same time.
So which is it? Is the future something to be feared, or is it a longed-for gift? Is mega-disaster heading our way or is a beautiful tomorrow waiting just around the corner, ready to envelop the world in Utopian bliss?
These are some of the attitudes that humanity has developed over the centuries. But humanity, of course, is made up of individuals. As individuals, too, we often have an uneasy relationship with the future.
The salient feature of the future is that it’s uncertain. And uncertainty has the power to do quite a number on us. Those who are worriers by nature will fret about what may be coming down the pike. Will the future be what I want it to be? Will it bring blessings in its train or, r”l, something far less desirable? How do I prepare for something that I can’t see?
They do their anxious best. They make plans, and then they make contingency plans. They religiously save their money, squirrelling away a portion of their assets for a rainy day. Their attitude is: if it doesn’t end up raining, I wouldn’t have lost anything. And if it does, then I’ll be prepared.
On bad days, they obsess over the many and varied dire catastrophes that may be headed their way. On better days, they allow themselves to nurture a modicum of hope that maybe, just maybe, they’ll be fortunate enough to avert disaster. Of the future’s propensity to bring disaster, however, they have no doubt. They find it impossible to look away from whatever might be barreling down the tracks in their direction. Not only is it difficult for them to distract themselves from their worries; they don’t want to be distracted. To look away is to be unprepared. Inattention breeds vulnerability.
And so, they peer anxiously down the road, trying to out-guess the future. Doing their best to anticipate a tomorrow that is necessarily hidden from their view. And making a valiant effort to take some pleasure in today while they’re at it.
Others, less worry-prone, treat the future as a kind of gigantic chessboard. They, too, are planners, but their planning is not so much about protecting themselves from tomorrow’s blows as about devising a winning strategy. They are ambitious to come out on top in life. To that end, they constantly work at figuring the angles and creating pathways to success. If the future threatens me with its bishop, then I’ll charge ahead with my rook…
In contradistinction to both of these groups are the glass-half-full folks. Those who regard the future as their best friend, a kind of fairy godmother hovering in the wings to shower good fortune on one and all. For these people, optimism makes a whole lot more sense than taking a pessimistic view of tomorrow. Gratefully recalling past blessings, they assume that the future will only bring more of the same.
Call it having a naturally sunny disposition or call it naïve: the optimist categorically refuses to live her life as if it’s about to collapse around her at any moment.
Maybe she was fortunate enough to have grown up with a sense of security and bitachon. Maybe she simply lacks the worry-gene that plagues so many of her friends and neighbors. And maybe both are true. Whatever the reason, she has decided to extend the hand of friendship to whatever may be getting ready to greet her around the next bend.
There is also another category of people: those who don’t really relate to the future at all. Childlike, they confine themselves to the all-encompassing now and spare few thoughts for what may lie ahead.
At the really unhealthy end of the spectrum, such individuals can be flighty and irresponsible. Others lead fairly responsible lives, though those lives are largely limited to the present moment. The future is like a stranger at the door: they’d rather pretend they never heard the knock.
They tend to be dependent and emotionally needy rather than bold thinkers and planners. They are not very careful about putting away for a rainy day, because they believe that someone else will take care of them if and when that rainy day ever comes.
How we look at the future (or avoid looking, as the case may be) is, I think, one of the factors that plays into the way we lead our day-to-day lives. Obviously, a certain amount of planning and saving is both wise and prudent; being constantly anxiety-ridden about a possible future calamity, not so much. Conversely, facing the future optimistically is a good thing… except if your optimism blinds you toward reality.
As always, balance and maturity are the key to getting it right. Far easier to say than to achieve, but a worthwhile goal nonetheless. Perhaps even the most useful goal when it comes to leading a happy, productive and functional life.
One good attitude we can all share with regard to the future is that of hope. It’s never wrong to dream of and long for the things we want and need, without attaching either optimistic or pessimistic labels as to the chance of their coming true. And certainly, filling oneself with hope is one way of banishing other, less helpful emotions.
So one of the things you might want to ask yourself when trying to smooth out the bumps in your personal road is this: how do I relate to the future? Do I view it realistically and prepare accordingly, or do I see it through a lens that is either too rosy or too bleak?
When I get right down to it, do I view tomorrow as friend… or foe?