Remember Michigan summers when it didn’t rain all the time and the days were long, sunny and peaceful? On days like those — which will surely return one day — it was easy to find a perfect spot to chill out and allow the troubles of the world to wash away as if they were a million miles from here. Ah, Pure Michigan.
The world’s problems may have come to mind at those moments, but they seemed so colossal and so impossibly unsolvable that we felt helpless to do anything about them. How can I — just one person — possibly solve global warming, or bring peace to the Middle East, or eradicate hate when I can’t even set the clock in my car?
The plain truth is, I can’t do any of those things. At least on my own I can’t.
When we have problems in our personal lives, we can usually formulate a game plan to try to solve them. But how does one deal with gigantic societal problems that are so overwhelming, so demoralizing, so paralyzing that we cannot possibly fix them on our own? How can we stay positive knowing this reality?
I recently posed this question to one of the smartest guys I know, my buddy who happens to be a brilliant rabbi. His advice was astute and practical. The key, he explained, is for each of us to look inward and take inventory of our attitude. Big problems overwhelm us, he said, and so we must strike a healthy balance between retreating from them and obsessing over them. If we can’t find the right balance and attitude, we’re doomed to forever being frustrated, angry and ineffectual. Which is no way to live.
It’s all about attitude, or something like that.
So I took his advice and immediately conducted an attitudinal self-exam. Off the bat, I knew that I’m not a guy who retreats from problems. If anything, I have a tendency to obsess over them, which is not necessarily healthy. I’m the guy, for example, who gets real-time siren alerts on my phone every time a rocket is launched against Israel. The ominous sound goes off way too often, never fails to startle me, annoy my family and cause strangers around me to think I must be insane or possibly Batman.
I then applied the rabbi’s advice and identified the hot topics on my mind this summer, and assessed whether I was maintaining the kind of attitude he described.
Here’s the short list of my topics, along with the grade I give myself (Warning: it’s not pretty.)
Anti-vaxxers. I know we’re supposed to be kind and respectful to everyone, but I can’t take it anymore. THESE ANTI-VAXXERS ARE MAKING ME CRAZY! They’re defying settled science, spewing their nonsensical garbage to anyone who’ll listen, and thus allowing the virus to survive and mutate, making life increasingly unsafe for everyone. I have zero tolerance in dealing with them. Sorry, rabbi, but I’d give myself an F on my attitude on this one.
Jewish Complacency. I’ve been to two rallies in the past few months for Jewish solidarity and against antisemitism, one local and one in Washington DC. In both cases, the turnout was anemic. I have no clue why that is so and reject every pathetic excuse people have concocted. Why aren’t all Jews mad as hell and doing something about the sharp spike in hate crimes against us?
Earth to my fellow American Jews: We have a serious problem on our hands. Jew hatred is raging, and complacency is the last thing in the world we need. We must step up our game or our problems will grow darker — and our children will pay the price. I generally have a good attitude about the future of my people, but frankly it’s getting tougher by the day.
I give my attitude a B-
Disinformation. The deliberate spreading of disinformation is a cancer to us all. On Fox News, Tucker Carlson still casts doubts about vaccines; just last week he called Dr. Fauci “the guy who created Covid.” And he suggests that the FBI was behind January 6th. On OAN and Newsmax — the folks who thought Fox News was too liberal — commentators regularly spew The Big Lie and their fairy tale spin that January 6th was a friendly tourist experience.
Facebook is another accomplice. About 50% of Americans today get their news on Facebook, a staggering statistic that should terrify us. Facebook’s algorithms are designed to deliberately send false news to millions of their users. This is a fixable problem, but waiting for Mark Zuckerberg to do it himself is pure myth.
My grade on dealing with this with a good attitude and a healthy balance: D
Labor Shortages. On this one I’m totally baffled. It seems there are more Help Wanted signs these days than traffic lights. What happened to America’s workforce? The other day I couldn’t go to Olga’s because the dining room was closed due to a lack of employees. I’m not smart enough to understand exactly why this is happening — and don’t tell me it’s only because of unemployment checks — but something big and ominous is going on right before our eyes, and it may not be just a temporary situation.
I’ll give myself a generous C+ in dealing with this — for now (but if I can’t get my curly fries next month, I’ll have to re-evaluate that grade).
Billionaires in Space. Most people might say this isn’t a big problem, and perhaps they’re right. But I think it’s a deplorable commentary on humanity and I’m pretty outraged by the whole thing. We’ve gone from John Glenn and the Right Stuff heroes of my youth to a handful of multi-billionaires who buy a quickie self-glory thrill ride and bring along their friends and family.
And we treat this as if it’s some kind of scientific breakthrough. Jeff Bezos just spent $5.5 billion to go into space for 4 minutes. According to Global Citizen, that money would’ve kept 37 million people from starving and paid for 2 billion vaccinations in low-income countries.
Shame on all of them, as well as everyone who celebrates this self-indulgent circus.
My grade for having a balanced and healthy mental attitude here: What’s worse than F?
Voter Suppression Laws. We’re now up to 18 states that have enacted voter suppression laws — and not a single state has uncovered widespread voter fraud. At a time when this democracy of ours needs maximum participation, these states have devised malevolent ways to keep voter counts down. It doesn’t get more un-American than that.
My grade in handling this: Another F
Last but not least … Mosquitoes. In case you haven’t noticed, Michigan is in the grips of a massive mosquito outbreak this summer. There are over 60 kinds of mosquito species in Michigan, constantly laying eggs and spreading viruses and disease wherever they go. I know mosquitoes are part of the ecosystem, and we’re supposed to love nature and all that, but I don’t care anymore. I’m done with these blood suckers and I want them all dead.
How’s that for kindness towards all God’s creatures? Need I give myself a grade here?
We are surrounded by huge problems that we are powerless to solve on our own. We get frustrated and discouraged. But I know the rabbi is correct — it’s all about having the right attitude and finding a healthy mental balance to deal with this reality.
Clearly I have some work to do. Looks like I’m going to need a bit more patience, understanding and wisdom this rainy summer.
Time to call the rabbi again. After I find the damn bug spray.