U.S. traffic deaths dropped last year to their lowest level since record-keeping began in 1949; and very few people celebrated the good news. American traffic deaths fell by almost 26% since the 43,510 fatalities reported in 2005 (37 % down in California from 2005 to 2010). American highway fatalities rose during the 50’s and 60’s until they peaked in 1972, at 54,589. Since then they have declined by more than 40% even though the number of cars and drivers has more than doubled.
In 1949, there were 30,246 fatalities, but the rate was 7.13 fatalities for every 100 million vehicle miles traveled compared to 1.1 per 100 million now. If traffic deaths occurred at the same rate in 2011 as they did in 1949; over 180,000 more people would have died in the U.S. last year alone. This fantastic achievement in increasing traffic safety has gone largely unheralded (the story was on page six of the L.A. Times).
Why does the news media devote so much attention to bad news and so little attention to good news? Why do people seem more interested in violence than the absence of violence? Religions teach us that we should count our blessings. Politicians and the news media teach us to count every single thing that is wrong, everywhere in the world. How can people keep their sanity and balance in our media driven democracy? The religious answer is to say blessings every day.
One way of influencing people to think positively about their lives is to teach them the importance of saying blessings for the many things they experience, both in their ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times. It is a Mitsvah (Jewish religious duty) to say blessings at every meal over food and drink. Every morning when we awake it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work. During daily prayer there are 18 blessings, and there are blessings for the weekly celebration of the Sabbath. Their are also blessings to say for special occasions for our sages urged us to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are. Indeed, Jewish tradition maintains that everyone who is able to say 100 blessings a day is truly blessed. Among the special occasion blessings there is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage. Their is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering to experience ‘very good’. Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions:
On beholding fragrant trees:
Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.
On seeing trees in blossom:
Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.
On seeing an unusual looking person:
Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.
On the Divine value of pluralism and human variety when seeing a large number of diverse people:
Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, the Sage of enigmas, for just as no person’s opinion is just like that of another, so their faces are different from one another.
On seeing evidence of charitable efforts:
Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.
On seeing people who overcome adversity:
Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.
The best way to preserve your sanity and balance in today’s world is to remember to count your blessings every day.
Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com