Life is Beautiful

I recently wrote a guest Op-Ed over at my friend Bill Blankschaen's Patheos blog arguing that "now is no time for pessimism or panic" when it comes to dealing with a second-term Obama presidency. I counsel optimism rather than pessimism when it comes to our cultural challenges. Believe you're a loser, act like a loser, and you'll soon be a loser. And, believe me, the progressive left wants conservatives to believe and act like losers!

I now see that the great Steven Hayward of Powerline has a new article in National Review counseling conservatives in much the same way: no pessimism!

Several depressed friends have marveled at my optimism in the past couple of weeks, wondering how I could be so...chipper. Well, I am something of a roller coaster, and I typically don't show my valleys in public as much as I do my pinnacles.

But I work as Senior Scholar of Public Theology at the Center For Cultural Leadership. That word, "leadership," is not a throwaway. One of the many elements of great leadership is the ability to lift the spirits of others in tough times and to see the silver linings almost nobody else sees. I am not tooting my own horn, as though I am some kind of great leader. I am not. But I do recognize the attribute and try, as best I can, to develop it.

The other night I was flipping through my Netflix queue (which I am vigorously trying to reduce by actually watching all the things I've placed on it over the past year!) and clicked on Roberto Begnini's masterpiece, Life Is Beautiful. It would seem impossible to make an uplifting, cheerful movie about so dark a subject as the Holocaust, but that is exactly what Begnini accomplished.

His character, the indefatigable Guido Orifice, leads his son through the darkest, most horrific events imaginable by his irrepressible optimism. He was not some kind of ridiculous idealist; he knew exactly where they were (a concentration camp) and what was their likely end. But right up to the bitter end he maintained his cheerful optimism, keeping up the "game" he'd fabricated to encourage his son to persevere. And you know what? The times were dark. He didn't survive the ordeal. But his optimism and relentless encouragement was just enough to sustain the young boy and result in his eventual survival.

I am not saying that optimism needs to be artifice, a mere act. And, in fact, it wasn't even in the case of Guido, for his son ultimately does make it. Blind optimism is not my brand of optimism. What I am saying is that optimism itself has the inherent effect of encouraging others, lifting them up, giving hope, and producing perseverance. And I think that is a very good kind of optimism.

As a Christian theologian firmly convinced that God is on the move, a God who loves People, loves Prosperity, and loves Justice, I have every reason to be optimistic. Maybe not for me personally, or even my generation. Maybe things will get much worse before they get any better. But just maybe if we act optimistic now, lift up our heads in hope, and work with great expectations, it will bear fruit for others in the future in ways we do not now foresee.

So enough with the down-in-the-mouth, "end of the world as we know it" attitude. More "Life is Beautiful!" please.

Brian Mattson