Hope at Year's End

ONCE upon a time, year's end signaled the reason for compiling 10-best lists - appreciations of excellence in the celebrating spirit of the holidays.

Then, less happily, 10-best lists began to be accompanied by 10-worst lists. Whether the field is films or fashions, boos are now heard equally with the cheers. The negative examples seem to be compiled with extra zest - not even including an honors list for balance, as in Esquire magazine's annual dubious achievement awards.

For a time of rebirth, what a lot of negativity seems to fill the air! Feature stories, as usual, play up the holiday blues and the tension afflicting family reunions. News stories further dim the lights with reports on reduced services for the homeless and proposed slashes in social programs.

In contrast to all the Grinchy lists, in contrast to the headlined bleakness of year-end history, is there no good news? In fact, the world of 1994 - treated as a litany of disasters - is unfairly getting a bad press. A follower of news in the United States might need reminding that more planes are landing safely than crashing, increasing numbers are employed, and life expectancy is up.

Consider the global picture:

Who would have dreamed seven years ago of the nightmares in Bosnia-Herzegovina or Rwanda? But who would have dreamed then that the Berlin Wall would tumble down, the cold war would end, and Nelson Mandela would become president of South Africa?

A new report from Freedom House in New York indicates that the number of democracies has doubled over the past 20 years. As the year ends, 114 nations are characterized as democratic - the largest total ever.

Yet as a balancing act - a measure of work still to be accomplished - the survey also warns that there have been only ``modest gains'' in human rights.

History may be a standoff between best lists and worst lists. All holiday ho-hos are subject to restraint. But the backlash in favor of the naysayers has gone too far - civilization is not about to expire, either with a bang or a whimper. That pop is only the sound of excessive expectations going flat.

1994 (going on 1995) is a fitter moment to celebrate than to deplore. There's light, and it's closer than the end of the tunnel. Will people be able to acknowledge candles in the darkness if they can't appreciate the good news around them in a festive season?

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