Plant ShootI am worried. I am worried that people are worried. I am worried that people seem to have lost a sense of optimism. I know that can seem such a sweeping statement, so sweeping as to be inane. Things change, and maybe we are in a downswing of mood, but things will be looking up again soon. You know, that American spirit, always optimistic in the end.

But I am worried that broad cultural changes do happen, big shifts take place. I am worried that we might wake up one morning and recognize that our can-do optimistic American confidence about our ability to fix our problems and build a better future may be gone. History tells us the spirit of a people can be enervated. There are many who talk that way about Europe right now.

We must worry immensely that our younger generation might lose a sense of hope about the future, a sense of confidence that they can address the problems of the world, a sense of confidence about their own opportunities to make a difference. We talk a lot about this at Seattle Pacific: How do we equip young people with the skills and the vision to change the world? This should be on our minds as parents and educators right now. This should be on the minds of the leaders of our organizations and our institutions and our country.

The problems seem so huge. That’s one source of our consternation about the future. That’s one source of our intimidation about making a difference. Our debt is huge, mind-bogglingly huge. Much of it is owned by China. I keep hearing that this current recession is different: “We may be in this slog for another five years.” Now that’s discouraging. We are living beyond our means, individually and nationally. We are involved in two wars and face the constant threat of terrorism. We can’t get enough vaccine to protect the vulnerable against the flu. The list seems to multiply.

But as Peggy Noonan says in a recent Saturday column in The Wall Street Journal, “The biggest long-term threat is that people are becoming and have become disheartened, that this condition is reaching critical mass, and that it afflicts most broadly and deeply those members of the American leadership class who are not in Washington . . . .”

And so how do we go about the job of restoring that sense of confidence? That’s a big question. I think it has something to do with the story we tell ourselves about ourselves. What is the guiding narrative we adopt about ourselves as individuals and the story we adopt about our nation and our world? And if it isn’t can-do optimism and confidence, what is it? I know these are big questions indeed. I’d love to hear your thoughts. And then maybe I will return to this topic in a later post. What do you think?