It was the 1950s and everything was perfect.
We had emerged victorious in what would become known as the last good war, yet another war to end all wars. The boys were home and there were good jobs and opportunities to go to college on the GI Bill. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had managed the war in the European Theater of Operations, was at America’s helm. Social change was on the agenda and the infrastructure of a still-young country was being masterminded. The landscape was being re-shaped by a system of roads that would make the country more mobile and sate our wanderlust.
And schoolchildren were reassured that a desk would protect them from any nuclear attack and its attendant fallout.
Everyone had a new car and a cracker-box house in the suburbs. Service clubs thrived.
At least that’s how it was for white people. I’d advise that those interested in Black history, sign up for a class in Critical Race Theory.
To help sustain this new order of the “Leave-It-to-Beaver” era of social enlightenment, Norman Vincent Peale, a clergyman from Ohio, published his 1952 best seller, The Power of Positive Thinking. Dr. Benjamin Spock taught the parents of the baby boomers how to be, well… parents. His Baby and Child Care, advised several generations of new parents to be more flexible and affectionate with their children and to treat them as individuals.
And men, most of whom would never say anything publicly more than a toast at a wedding, flocked to Toastmasters International to develop skills at communication, public speaking, and leadership. I was taken to a Holiday Inn conference room twice a week to partake in Evelyn Wood’s Reading Dynamics—a speed-reading program endorsed by those in congress who had to read the Congressional Record every day.
Keeping things positive was the chore laid before what Tom Brokaw called the “greatest generation.” It was a dire direction and required them to deny some simple realities.
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.’ It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult—once we truly understand and accept it—then life is no longer difficult,” wrote M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled. “Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”
I would argue with Mr. Peck that a difficult life is a difficult life. Period. And it matters a lot. We need not gush about a good life in that the difficult life is more easily adapted to cynicism—a natural reaction to the inane.
The struggle for positivity today is best witnessed on social media. For instance, it’s where I found the Peck quote, and it’s where thousands of people spread the gospel of high hopes. Those messages are typically written in script with a floral-pattern backgrounds. Frequently there are birds or fluffy puppies. A growing number of people will be unable to read these advisories since they were never taught cursive penmanship. Lucky them.
When I’m not cringing at the Goody Two-Shoes missives on Facebook, I’m blushing at their sentimentality. I want to believe, for instance, that “better days are on their way.” While offering a positive note about the future, what does it say about today? Positivity is in the offing; negativity is the reality.
“Be yourself and people will like you,” noted some Pollyanna. I can think of hundreds of exceptions.
Buddha, in his role as a wise man who weighed in on most matters facing each of us in daily life, offered the cautionary “what we think, we become.” The message here, of course, is to entertain only positive thoughts lest one becomes one’s own avatar.
The Dalai Lama, recently embroiled in a tongue controversy, advises us to “choose to be optimistic, it feels better.” This is a variation of the half-empty, half-full question that embodies the choice we have to be either hopeful or dire as we trundle through our lives. A lot of this depends on our cultural, ethnic or religious experiences.
A variation of the above might be that “sometimes, when things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.” Whatever.
“Do good and good will come to you,” while innocent-sounding on one level, is actually a denial of doing good for no reason other than to do good. A promise of a reward for one’s actions on that arcane level is to deny reality.
“Surround yourself with positive people.” The definition of positive is essential to find any meaning in the quote. In my book, positive people are those who wake up smiling and want to engage in conversation before noon.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
Grilled romaine salad
Now that grilling season has finally arrived it’s time to prepare this delicious salad.
1 Tbs. minced shallots
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
5 tsp. Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Combine ingredients in a lidded jar and shake well to mix.
3 heads romaine lettuce
1 bunch small radishes
2 hard-cooked eggs
1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
Trim romaine and halve each head lengthwise, leaving enough base to hold the halved head intact. Slice the radishes as thinly as possible. Finely chop the eggs.
Combine the breadcrumbs in a small saucepan with the olive oil. Stir to coat well, season with salt and place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the crumbs have darkened and toasted, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Grill the romaine on over high heat, cooking just long enough to sear, 1 to 2 minutes to a side. The heat must be intense so as to char the lettuce but not allow it to wilt too much.
Arrange lettuce on a platter, season lightly with salt and spoon a generous tablespoon or so of dressing over the top. Repeat until all the romaine has been cooked and added to the platter.
Distribute the thinly sliced radishes over the top. Scatter the chopped eggs. Spoon over more of the salad dressing, scatter the toasted breadcrumbs and serve.