Overcoming fear is first step to taking constructive action

A bumper sticker, adorning a huge pickup truck this holiday season, read threateningly, "Liberalism precedes terrorism." My first impulse was to counter with, "Conservatism precedes fascism."

But I don't believe either one - being both a liberal and a conservative in the old senses of the words.

Many of us share the same paradox, in that we believe in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, in equal justice under the law and equal opportunity without monopoly in a well-regulated marketplace.

We're liberal, because we believe in religious and cultural tolerance and in a live-and-let-live social ethic based on humility and reciprocal compassion and rationality.

We're conservative, because we abhor waste and capricious change.

It's injustice, hopelessness and collective madness that precede terrorism. Hate, fear-mongering and megalomania precede fascism.

I'm less worried about the nihilism of violence and the corruption of authority than I am about the strength of hope in 2008. I see far too little hope at the moment.

Some folks see the world coming to an end on a wave of social and moral decay, governed by three of the 7 Deadly Sins - lust, sloth and envy. Others see the world coming to an end engulfed by three other deadly sins - greed, pride and gluttony.

Both sides fear the sin of anger driven to homicidal rage.

But hope is something more precious than fear-driven fortune-telling, which is almost always wrong.

Hope is the first step in taking constructive action. The Rev. William Sloan Coffin used to say, "Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart's full of hope, you can be persistent when you can't be optimistic."

Historian Howard Zinn used the phrase "the optimism of uncertainty." He said that "life is a gamble. Not to play is to foreclose any chance of winning. To play, to act, is to create at least a possibility of changing the world." He reminds us that "there is a tendency to think that what we see in the present moment will continue. We forget how often we have been astonished by the sudden crumbling of institutions."

Those who work at The Tribune know exactly what he means. The future is uncertain for everyone. But those with the most hope, and the confidence it breeds, have a chance to do the most good.

The Tribune certainly has been good to me. I was hired first by Dan Burrows, and worked for Ralph Looney on city and federal beats from 1966 to 1967. I came back as a weekly columnist in 1986 and have worked ever since under the open-minded calm of Jack Ehn, Tribune editorial page editor, and the tolerance of every editor from Bill Tanner to Phill Casaus. My thanks to them all.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
December 29, 2007