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Living in Fear

January 21, 2019 (543 words)

We all have our preferred sources of news and information that contribute to our comfortable routines. In the January 11 edition of The Week magazine, managing editor Mark Gimein provides an “Editor’s Letter” in which he observes: “we seem to live now in a state of perpetual fear.”

In The New York Times of January 14, veteran political correspondent Peter Baker warns us the “real battle (between the President and the press) has yet to begin.” In his front page, above-the-fold column, Mr. Baker quotes Andy Surabian, a Republican strategist and former special assistant to Mr. Trump, as saying, “the next two years are going to be non-stop political war.”

And then there is Chris Hayes, host of the popular MSNBC nightly news round-up, “All In with Chris Hayes,” who recently gave an interview to NPR (National Public Radio) in which he boils down the current dilemma facing responsible journalists as follows, “the President kicks the ball, and we are all forced to chase after it.”

It’s only natural for the aforementioned professionals to discern the tenor of the times, and dutifully report on what they see and sense. But for those of us not being paid to track the calamities being routinely summoned by President Tweet, there is really no reason to obsess over such things.

By which I do not mean to suggest that current affairs are trivial, and can be casually dismissed. Paying attention to the world around us, and making ourselves as informed as possible, is a good thing. But we should also recognize the limits of our sphere of influence. No matter how much we may care, there is little most of us can do to effect national – to say nothing of international – events.

… a mature equilibrium is the best we can hope for

So the best one can hope for in this life is to achieve a level of mature equilibrium, and try to conduct one’s day-to-day activities in a rational, considerate manner.

The alternative to finding ourselves motivated by perpetual anger or fear, generated by a pre-occupation with the larger world, is to consciously seek motivation in such simple things as faith, hope, and charity. These virtues make us capable of “living as God’s children, and meriting eternal life,” as the saying goes.

Does that sound too ephemeral for your taste? It’s really as gritty and down-to-earth as it gets. This is where the rubber meets the road, where the Golden Rule (“treat others as you would wish to be treated”) first gains traction.

We can continue spending an inordinate amount of our time thinking about and commenting on the deeds of shameless leaders and other deplorables operating in the public eye. Or we can focus that energy on cleaning up behaviors within our immediate control.

The choice for most of us is between indulging public outrage and the cultivation of private virtue, between random indignation and responsible engagement.

When all is said and done, tending to one’s own garden is the most productive use of one’s limited time and resources. It’s also widely regarded as being the hardest work there is, and worthy of our full attention.

Robert J. Cavanaugh, Jr.
January 21, 2019

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