Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

EDITORIAL: Russia Could Use Dose of Yankee Spirit




It seems that optimism -- even when baseless - is healthy. Optimists live longer. Nations of optimists take on absurd tasks while others chuckle, and then succeed while others gasp.


That's the conclusion of studies published in the American Psychological Association's academic journal this month. It seems optimists are less prone to accidents and violence, including everything from getting in a car accident to suffering a household mishap to being selected as the target for murder. Optimists confronted with news of a terminal illness also lived nine months longer, on average, than those who were more "realistic" about their fate. Scholars have arguments about why this is so, but actually no one really knows.


Among nations, optimism also seems to be a winner. That's the implicit conclusion that could be drawn from a series of British national achievements this month that has each been hailed as miraculous: the creation of the power-sharing government in Northern Ireland, which ended 30 years of deadlock and violence there; the revival of the world-famous Royal Opera House in London's Covent Garden; and the completion of a London subway line that stretches to perhaps the ultimate symbol of 21st-century optimism, the Millennium Dome.


As The Washington Post reports, all three of those "miracles" were salvaged from daunting disarray when an American was brought in. There is much pundit-chinpulling as to why this is so, but again, much of it seems to boil down to American can-do optimism.


This is not to say that grinning like a self-confident idiot is the secret to success. It would be hard to survey the scene in Russia - after a decade of expert economic advice from can-do Yanks and their local camp followers - and conclude that the problem has been too much realism and pessimism.


Nor is it to complain that Russians in general need more optimism in their personal lives. For one thing, we all probably do; we'd be happier. For another, what more optimistic way is there to embrace life than to bake oneself in an oven, then have a friend beat one with sticks, then leap into a frozen lake - all in the name of good health?


Even so, Russia could use some Yankee optimism. How hard is it, after all, to write a good Tax Code? Or to envision anyone other than Vladimir Putin for president? Or to adopt an honest, firm yet penitential approach to Chechnya - a Christian approach, if you like, one of rebuilding and reconciliation? How hard is it really to eradicate medically resistant tuberculosis from the nation's prisons? Isn't the problem that everyone assumes it's impossible?