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Inside NCR

Summer Listings only the icing in most optimistic of all worlds

NNewspapers are odd entities. One can never be sure what mysterious ink flows through their pages that causes people to love this paper and denounce that one; or why some prefer news, others gossip -- not to mention the ads. For all the high-minded editorials, it’s no secret that ads are the ballast that keeps newspapers from flipping.

It’s quite likely that the very first newspaper, scrawled on some cave wall in ancient Mesopotamia or upriver in Iran (and if Iran is in fact downriver, I don’t want to know), reported how the local strongman had clubbed the daylights out of his nearest rival (the news doesn’t change much). But you can be sure the “reporter” appended a footnote to say, by the way, that she or he had a spare spear for sale. An ad, in short. Later, when the ancestors got really creative, the ad probably read, “Have wheel, will travel.”

Sure, news and opinions are important, but closer to home it’s more urgent to know where you can buy socks or a picture of Jesus 2000, where you can attend a retreat or summer school, get a job or fill a vacancy. For better or worse, ads are perhaps the most pervasive communication in the modern world. We couldn’t leave home without them, or stay there either.

The reader by now may already have perused this week’s Summer Listings special section or will do so soon. Word has it that these pages are nothing less than an annual event in Catholic circles from sea to shining sea. In these tightly packaged pages are reflected the pulsating heart of the American church examining its conscience and reviewing its options each summer (I should have been an ad writer!).

We are gratified that when people want to announce what is going on in the U.S. church, they advertise it in NCR; that when they want to know where the action is, they check NCR. Not just Summer and Winter Listings but week after week.

All this does not come together by magic or miracle. It is accomplished by the genius and hard work of NCR’s advertising team. These are: Jan Branning, Bob Gately, Marcie Ryan and Advertising Manager Vicki Breashears. Breashears, without fanfare, slipped into this new role some months ago. We salute and thank them for a wonderful job done not only efficiently but with cheerfulness and, on their good days, a hint of panache.

Readers who are feeling down, depressed or merely lugubrious -- have we got good news for you. All you have to do, according to the Los Angeles Times, is become an optimist, “the curious human habit of expecting good things to happen, often in defiance of reality.”

The article goes on to say that literally dozens of recent studies show “that optimists do better than pessimists in work, school and sports; suffer less depression; achieve more goals; respond better to stress; wage more effective battles against disease; and, yes, live longer.”

The intriguing thing is that no one has been able to figure optimism out. This may be because not many have tried. In the past 30 years there were 46,000 studies in the psychology literature on depression, but only 400 on joy (though 400 studies, on the other hand, should surely have come up with something). People of droopy outlook were at least able to learn plenty from all those studies of depression -- that you’re more likely to get into car wrecks, for example. This leads to an intense debate about whether optimists or pessimists take more risks.

AIDS has been a fertile arena for the study of attitude. One 1980s study of 78 patients showed those who had a realistic attitude died an average of nine months sooner than those with an inappropriate overload of optimism. In other words, it pays to be off.

And soon one finds oneself wrestling with the unlikely: “Clinging to the belief in a positive future against reasonable odds sometimes makes it happen.”

Sure, there are explanations. But they’re not answers.

And finally, when optimism fails, there’s always hope.

-- Michael Farrell

National Catholic Reporter, March 3, 2000