If I declare myself an optimist, I expect many of you to laugh. After all, am I not in fact among the most anxious of men? I suffer from chronic bouts of depression. I live my life in fear of things going wrong. To say I am an optimist seems to mock the very concept. But, to quote Walt Whitman “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
I am an optimist, but I concede that optimism comes with the caveat that I do contain anxiety and depression. However, if you were to ask me what I believe on a grand scale, I would tell you I believe the better will come. I believe things can and will get better. It’s a macro scale but but I truly do believe that.
And in all fairness, I think on a macro level my life will go well. I’m 30, happily married, ensconced in a career I love. 17 years ago I was a bullied child uncertain life would ever be good. So yeah, in 10 years I expect things to be great, hell in 2 years I do. It’s the next few weeks I have issues with, but on a grand scale I’m expecting good.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons to think things won’t get better. I can list a number right now. Human rights are a travesty. There’s war everywhere. Disease and famine are rampant. Best not to get into climate change. Economies aren’t great, leave it at that.
So let me respond to all of those things and more: We know. We all know all of those things. We don’t ignore that and we absolutely care about all of those things. But we still believe that things can work out. Why?
I’m a student of history. As dreadful as this world can be, it’s not a hopeless one. Technology advances. Medicine gets better. Health improves. Just study the infant mortality rates in the west. OK, so it could be better elsewhere. That’s all the more reason to fight to change things. Because it could. We will never get to utopia, but I genuinely want to believe in things getting better.
I’m also aware of the fact that man is neither good nor bad. In my opinion, man is, if not neutral an intriguing blend of both. I think some of us are prone to darkness, sure. But I also think there are very good people on this rock who genuinely do love.
But I’m not hitting the core. For me, it stems from my childhood. I’ve lived without hope and it got me nowhere. When you just plain expect everything to be bad, you don’t do anything. There’s a lot of sitting around. You don’t fight to improve things. Optimism starts with believing that things CAN get better, not that they will, but that they can. And you can do something about it. Maybe only 2%, but 98% of pain feels ever so much better than 100%.
Optimism is refusing to accept that things will always be awful. It’s looking at what is and doing everything in your power to change it. It’s not thinking everything will be perfect for that’s naiveté. No, it’s vowing to hope even when it’s scary. It’s living with the awareness that we can make things 0.000000000001% better and deciding that it’s worth it. It’s knowing that you will be knocked down but dammit you can get up again.
Maybe I am wrong. There are after all good reasons for cynicism. I’m sure sooner or later I’ll feel like losing it and declaring the world screwed. But I’m here in this moment and if I must have an outlook for the world, I will hope for the best. I might not get there, in fact I won’t. But I’ll get closer than if I’d never started moving in that direction.