I am an optimist.

February 21st, 2016 by Phil Leave a reply »

I am an optimist.

In the midst of neverending racism, the unbelievable attacks on our public schools, a largely incoherent economy, and worst of all, the spectre of advanced climate change, I am nevertheless an optimist.

Even in the midst of so many bad things, I see legitimate progress on the social justice front. I think as a whole people younger than me are much more justice-conscious than people older than me. Gay couples can get married almost anywhere in the U.S. And even on race, I think the overall trajectory is a positive one.

Even seeing somewhat from the inside the way in which our schools are under attack, I see reasons to look ahead. The fact is that our education system has been failing a huge chunk of American children for decades. The greediest of the profiteers have demonstrated how much more is at stake, and I think that the general public is slowly but surely coming around to understand what’s going on.

Even though the rich keep getting richer and more and more families are struggling, I think that for many people, especially the young, there is a greater understanding of how the fix is in, and they are responding. There is a greater resilience in the face of some of what the Powers That Be are throwing at people, and the kind of reforms which need to happen – in government and elsewhere – we will see more of in future years. We will see a growing adoption of local-centric economies in many places, and perhaps even a restoration of the kind of neighborly spirit which I think corporate America has sought to undermine for so long.

And even on climate change, where the science offers no good news, I can remain somewhat optimistic. Yes, Americans in general are lost on this issue. But here too I see a growing sense of broad camaraderie among the young; I have confidence that wind and solar and other renewable energy forms will become cheaper and proliferate more; and I think the economy as a whole will come around to realize that wastefulness is economically hazardous, and much more intelligent action will increasingly be taken. While I understand that the direst warnings of some scientists suggest it may already be too late, I think at the species level and at the social level, we will necessarily adapt, and while it may take a great struggle, I think that struggle could be unifying, as the people who best understand that the struggle is coming also understand that we’re all in this together.

I am not in denial about everything which is going wrong. The person who sees only the light and not also the darkness is not an optimist. They are something else entirely.

Humanity is not some sort of team sport, where we all spectators. The optimist is not someone in the stands who believes their side is going to come back. We’re all on the same side here. We’re even on the same side with the people who are led by hatred and fear. We all buckle down, and we all get to work. Together. As close to together as we can.

I will admit that I buy into that age old American thing: My child’s life should be better than my own. I know that a lot of people have lost track of this. I even know there are a great many people who resent the idea that their children might become more successful than they were. There really is an illness in our modern society which I can’t claim to fully understand. But I will neither deny its presence, nor allow its presence to hold us back as well.

Instead, when I declare that my child’s life should be better than my own, I think of “better” in terms distinct from “more successful”. Yes, a better life may mean one which is freer from want. But it especially means a life where every child he will go to school with is regarded as an equal, based solely on their common humanity. That’s not something I experienced. It means a life full of music and art, full of games and frivolity, full of broad mutual respect for people. It means a life with a greater balance of work and leisure. It means a life of uplifting the people around you. The reality is that my own life has been better than most in a lot of these respects, whether I have always acknowledged as much or not. But I too have known poverty, and crime, and grave personal disappointment. I am not so delusional as to think my child can be protected from everything; such shielding would only deny him the full richness of life. But even much of what I have seen and experienced, I hope he will be able to avoid.

And so I commit myself, best as I can, every day, to this optimistic path. I admit that I don’t always know what that means, and often great frustration can set in. I feel like I can and should be doing more, but lack perspective and/or knowledge to find that more productive and fulfilling path. But I will keep plugging away, for myself, my family… for all people. Because my optimism and the work attendant to it must be a small piece of a much greater fabric of optimism and work. I would rather run the risk of overstating my role than run the risk of understating it, because the second a person falls into the funk of believing that they don’t matter in the grander scheme of things, the whole network takes a hit.

So I encourage everyone around me, and for that matter everyone around the world, to join me in saying:

I am an optimist. And I will prove it by working for a better world for all.


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