Opinion: 2022 had its problems. How do they contrast to 100 years ago?
Folks 100 years ago had worries, too, and for good reason. But few people would want to go back there to live permanently. Despite horrible tragedies, life has gotten better
Nothing seems more worthy of scorn than a year on its way out. From the perspective of New Year’s Eve, it seems all the optimism everyone felt a year ago, when the clock turned midnight on the last New Year’s Eve, was for naught.
But that doesn’t keep anyone from feeling giddy about the one just over the horizon. Many of us will be there again Saturday at midnight, happily cheering in 2023, as if it will be just the thing we need to set everything right. Times Square in New York City will be jumping. Smiles will abound.
Are we a world filled with Charlie Browns who gladly chase footballs that keep getting yanked away at the last minute? Are we subjects in some cosmic experiment, shown to do the same things over and over while expecting different results?
No, we’re just incurable optimists and that’s a good thing. People seem to have an endless reservoir of belief that they can fashion a better tomorrow. For the most part, they have been right.
At this time of year, it can be instructive to climb aboard the dusty time machine of newspaper archives, courtesy of Newspapers.com, and see what people thought and worried about 100 years ago.
Don’t be afraid. You will find a world not so unfamiliar.
For instance, on Dec. 30, 1922, the Deseret News ran a piece about statistician Roger W. Babson predicting business conditions in 1923.
“Signs are not clear and the usual barometers seem to contradict one another,” the report said. Babson told those assembled that the nation was “neither at the top of a boom nor at the depth of a depression.”
“If we were at either of these extremes there would be no question of what the next move would be. As it is, we are about halfway between them.”
Which pretty much covered all the bases. Can’t go wrong with that.
Other events of the day foreshadowed much darker things ahead.
On New Year’s Day 1923, the world was contemplating the start of the Soviet Union. Vladimir Lenin had suffered three strokes during 1922, but he was still able to appoint Josef Stalin as general secretary of the Russian Communist Party. Few could grasp what this would mean, let alone what Benito Mussolini’s new dictatorship in Italy would portend for Europe.
In January, the first Nazi Party Congress would be held in Munich.
And yet, on that New Year’s Day, whoever was in charge of writing editorials for the Deseret News had this to say:
“Someone has said that there are two things that we should never worry about — one is the things we can help, and the other is the things we cannot help. If one can help things, he can help them better without worry; if he cannot help them, they should be put aside and not permitted to stand in the way of one’s happiness or growth.”
Good advice, that. Worry, it has been said, is like paying interest on money you have yet to borrow. Or as the 20th century Arizona columnist, Erma Bombeck, said, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
There was little reason, at the dawning of 1923, to ruin a day with worry. Plenty of time would be set aside for that in the decades to come.
And speaking of foreshadowing, another editorial that day asked, “What of the future?”
“The past eight years have been so full of novelties, as well as horrible experiences to the world, so full of contentions, so full of threats, so full of things that never happened before, that one may be excused for wondering, ‘What next?’ … All Europe is seething with political ebullition and social digressions that are likely to break out in social and political revolutions.”
Sometimes, the future is easier to see than we may think.
Meanwhile, The New York Times, after presenting several pieces on how prohibition made New Year’s dreary, marked the 100th birthday of Louis Pasteur, who had made the world “a safer, pleasanter, easier place in which to live …”
Pasteur, who had been dead for 27 years already, had discovered the principles of vaccination and developed pasteurization, a method for keeping milk from bacterial contamination.
And that illustrates one of the main points history labors to teach us.
The people of 1923, optimistic though they were on New Year’s Day, didn’t know about the coming Depression, WWII, the invention of the atomic bomb or the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
But they seemed fairly aware that life would occasionally send them a Pasteur, a Thomas Edison, a Jonas Salk or a Steve Jobs.
It would take a unique sort of blindness to miss how life today, while certainly not perfect, is in most physical aspects better than a century ago. Few people today would want to travel back there permanently, even if we don’t know what lies ahead of us today.
So, go ahead. Keep dragging out all the tragedies of the year that is passing. We’ll still ask Lucy to tee up the ball and try our hardest to kick it into a glorious future. It seems to have worked before.