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Lois M. Collins: Too many of us practice 'wishcraft' with troubles

Published: Thursday, Nov. 29 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

This February 2005 file photo shows trays of printed social security checks, in Philadelphia, waiting to be mailed from the U.S. Treasury.

Bradley C Bower, Associated Press

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They fired her on a Thursday and on Friday she was back at her desk earlier than she usually arrived, her clothing spruced, her expression pleasant.

I heard about it from a relative who worked with her.

She'd been fired for cause and her supposed-to-be-former boss was stunned to arrive and find her there, ready to start another work day.

"Julie," she said quietly (I am deliberately changing the woman's name here), "I fired you yesterday. You know that, right?"

"But I don't want to be fired," the woman replied.

As if that's all it takes.

Faced with realities we don't like, humans sometimes practice wishcraft, as if just thinking it — or declaring it — away would be enough to change a reality that seems unpleasant.

I did it when my mom was clearly beginning to show signs of the dementia that would steal her memory and her personality and ultimately her life. She's tired, I told myself. Dad's death stressed her out.

Sometimes, we do the same thing as a group.

That's come up recently with discussion of the national budget, the deficit and what's to be done about it. Some politicians have said, for instance, that Social Security doesn't contribute to our national deficit.

I wish I believed that, because I hope to claim some Social Security in a future that I am now old enough to see on the horizon.

Saying it, though, doesn't make it so.

USA Today this week took an editorial stab at setting that record straight, from who's in denial to what the numbers really say. It noted that page 465 of the president's budget shows that Social Security ran a $48 billion deficit last year and will have an even bigger one this year. Projections are pretty bleak into the future unless something changes.

The Congressional Budget Office said the program's fiscal bottom line will never balance again unless changes are made.

But none of us want changes that we think might impact our own situations. And no matter what change you make, someone's going to be impacted.

That same "wishcraft" applies to figuring that a Social Security trust fund can save the program. There isn't one. It will require actual decisions and some across-the-aisle cooperation to figure out what to do about that deficit and the others with which our nation must wrestle.

The truth is, sometimes the truth just is.

I don't think my kids use drugs. I can do my best to be sure they know why I don't want them to experiment with illicit substances and what the very real human toll is. But what I think doesn't determine whether or not my kids use drugs.

Is there global warming? I'm not a scientist. I know what I think about it, but I also know that my view on the topic won't alter the reality any more than earlier generations changed the Earth's shape simply by declaring that it was flat and someone who went too far would fall off the edge.

I think all sorts of things, with instant expertise on everything from whether someone is guilty of a high-profile crime with which he's been charged to whether a politician was born in America. But no matter how loudly I'm shouting my view, the truth doesn't change.

We've gotten so used to public opinion polls that we have, perhaps, come to believe that we can "public opinion" our way to reality.

Maybe the greatest gift we could give our country this holiday season is a dose of reality. Handed out, perhaps, with a bit of cooperation and a willingness to try.

Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at lois@desnews.com. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.

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