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"...another reason I'm intrigued with the hanged of Salem, especially the women, is that a number of them aroused suspicion in the first place because they were financially independent, or sharp-tongued, or kept to themselves. In other words, they were killed off for the same sort of life I live right now but with longer skirts and fewer cable channels." Sarah Vowell, The partly cloudy patriot.


Is hope a zero sum game?

Whenever there is a story of "hope" on the news, I want to hurl. I then start feeling badly because I feel like I should be happy for whoever is being profiled - and I start wondering if I am someone who only likes it when bad things happen to people - someone who only focuses on the bad.

Maybe those are true - but I think it's because when we focus on hope, or highlight hope, it becomes a zero sum game.

This is related to my post of last week or so - focusing on those who are rebuilding in the wake of Katrina takes the focus off of the things that are making it difficult or impossible for others to rebuild (literally or metaphorically). And further, it causes a rebound effect such that hope causes us to blame those who cannot navigate obstacles as well as others.

George Stephanopolous just came on the news to talk about his show this morning - and he said something about a man who lost his partner in 9.11 and what he has done to inspire hope.

First, George should stick to the hard hitting news. Second, gag me!

For every person who has overcome things, there are 10s of hundreds of others who have not. Further, maybe this dude feels all good 'n' shit - but maybe it's not that simple. Maybe he is having a rough time of things - or maybe he turned his attention to doing something "positive" to the detriment of truly grieving and working through things.

Now, I haven't seen this particular segment yet - but if it is like every other news story of "hope" then we know that in watching it, we may well wonder, "well, what the hell is wrong with those other people who are still sitting on their butts and can't get past it?"

It's kind of like every time I see a news story of "hope" about moms (it's never about dads) with autisitc children. Again, I want to hurl. They show these women as paragons of patience who deal with their child with aplomb. They have them in special schools and in sundry therapies - and they have behavioral charts and m&ms as rewards, and the children adore their autistic sibling, and on and on.

Where are the moms who resent that they have to spend their lives with this kid? Where are the moms who are just barely getting by? Just barely coping? Who are terrified they may lose it becuase having an autistic child is fricking challenging? Where are the siblings who resent all the time and attention their other sibling get? Where are the women and men and kids who just are not handling it well, and cannot cope?

You know they are out there - but to watch the news - you'd think they are anomalous. And if they watch the news, you can bet they feel like schmucks that they can't do things as well and easily.

This is why I hate those stories of hope: they oversimplify, they locate the blame for lack of success in the person, they make those of us who haven't been resilient feel like crap, they reinforce our ideas that good things happen to good people and that good people can and do make good out of bad (and bad people cannot - and if you don't, you are bad).


At 11:57 AM, Blogger betty said...

my brother has a serious aversion to the "livestrong" bracelets for a similar reason. he feels like the bracelets are smug and that they ignore all the people who just happened to get a terrible cancer they couldn't "beat". we have had many debates about the meaning/purpose of these bracelets and in the end he concedes that some people may be wearing them for the right reason - to support cancer research and to say that they feel super lucky they are still alive. but still, he hates them.

and also, one other random thing that's only peripherally related here (i'm all about the long comments today!) - when i was super depressed and had to be dragged into therapy i remember complaining that i didn't want to get happy because happy people are stupid. that was an extreme way of putting something that i have always felt which is that there is a lot of shitty stuff that happens in this world and i think too many people ignore it. i'm not so good at dealing with this on a global level because i have a hard time feeling sympathy if i can't identify with a person directly (at least this is my explanation) and so it's just always too many people for me to handle. but all around me i see people who have bad shit going on and i feel for them, i really do. sometimes i try to help, but i almost always at least worry about them.

i know lots of people though who are totally oblivious to when someone is having a bad day unless they are having a tantrum (which as adults, we rarely do). they are the kind of people who are uplifted by these stories you are talking about i think, because they never question what's told to them. they just react. that really irks me.

At 12:16 PM, Blogger RLT said...

You know, I never really considered the subject before. But now that you mention it, I think I always looked at those examples as not being representative - or even easily replicable. About the only value they might have, as far as I'm concerned, is if there is any helpful information that a viewer might not previously be aware of. Otherwise, I could certainly understand having an extremely resentful reaction.

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Laurie said...

I look at this from a different perspective: that is, as someone who spends time begging for money. Volunteering and fundraising. These hope stories are like Lance Armstrong and the Livestrong bracelets -- they make people feel good about their contributions and encourage other people to get involved. I devoted almost a year to getting Senator Kerry elected, and I cannot put too fine a point on heartbreak and the sense of utter helplessness and uselessness I felt and still feel every time I think about what we as a nation dismissed and what we got instead. I have to fight the "oh, hell, what difference does it make" feeling every time I consider another cause or event, even if it's something as simple as the book drive for the local public library. Stories of hope help combat ennui and energize the public and encourage at least the hope that the individual can make a difference. So I don't think the problem is the stories themselves. I think the problem is, as you said, the oversimplification of serious problems and the lack of attention to the other side of the equation. I don't understand why this is. After all, we have cable channels devoted to news and a 24-hour news cycle. Certainly there is time to cover stories in greater depth and show more than one, oversimplified dimension. Maybe it's because we have become a fast food nation and can't sit still and pay attention to any news story that lasts more than 2 minutes.


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