Optimism is a Choice, not a Reaction
Optimism doesn't have to be a judgement, or a reaction to the world around you. It can be a choice, by which you navigate and affect the world around you.
One of the best ideas I came across over the holidays was taking one word, and making it your mantra for the year. As we all know, New Year’s resolutions aren’t very effective (don’t worry it’s not just you, the science suggests it’s impossible for most people).
Having one word is better. It can act as a touchstone for many areas in your life, whether it’s health, relationships, or work, and you can adapt it to circumstances as they change around you.
My word for 2018 is easy.
Let me explain.
The default attitude for many people who think of themselves as smart, engaged and widely read is cynicism. In a world beset by climate change, environmental degradation, forced migration, political extremism, toxic masculinity, human rights violations, and economic inequality, it seems like the only sane reaction. Especially when the scale of the challenges we face seems to be matched only by the ineptitude of our political leaders.
To the well informed cynic, it’s obvious that the human race is utterly incapable of getting its shit together.
You know who else thinks like that? Emo teenagers. They naturally default to cynicism because it’s safe. The world is an uncertain, mean place filled with stupid authority figures and meat heads. Far easier to retreat to your room, cry softly onto your copy of Nietzche, write some dark poetry and wallow in the endless night of the human soul.
However, as anyone who’s gone back and read their teenage poetry knows, teenagers aren’t wise. They don’t really understand what’s going on. They haven’t had enough experience. Their decision to adopt an attitude of cynicism may like feel like an act of rebellion, a way of reclaiming agency in a world that has obviously gone mad. In reality, it’s a decision based on fear, uncertainty and inexperience.
As an adult, you’ve got no excuse. Cynicism is lazy, it’s the easy way out. If you only expect the worst from society, you never have to worry about being wrong, or disappointed. And if you stay cynical for long enough, it leads to what Steven Pinker calls corrosive pessimism. If everything is awful, and politicians are always liars, and business leaders are always greedy, and we’re all on a collision course with a climate change time bomb, then what’s the point in trying to do anything about it?
This kind of attitude is bad enough when it happens on an individual level, but at the societal level it’s toxic. In a time where action is paramount, cynicism creates a paralysing effect. It causes predatory delay, which is effectively the same as losing. It concedes the fight to those whose power and wealth is tied to planetary destruction and the misery of others.
So here’s my idea.
In 2018, how about cultivating an attitude of optimism? Not as a judgement, or a reaction to the world around you, but as a choice, by which you navigate and affect the world around you. In our own experience, the personal benefits of waking up every day and deliberately making that choice are profound.
It’s not just a personal project, it’s a political one.
I’m not talking about naive optimism, the kind that recycles, sings Kumbaya, grows organic veggies in the backyard and hopes Elon Musk is going to fix all of our problems.
I’m talking about a compassionate optimism, one that bears witness to the terrible things that are happening on our watch, and doesn’t shy away from the pain.
It’s a courageous optimism, one that admits the profound difficulty of the tasks that lie before us, and even the possibility of total failure.
It’s an intelligent optimism, informed by incredible advances in science and technology, and inspired by stories of human progress and environmental stewardship.
It’s a practical optimism, which takes a long, hard look at everything that’s going on around us and says, “we can do better than this.”
Most importantly, it’s a collective optimism, one that recognises that progress doesn’t happen by magic, but is the result of sustained, committed effort by millions of people over decades, who keep on showing up and insisting that it’s possible to create a vibrant, life sustaining global society that works for everyone.
Try it out — make optimism your filter bubble in 2018.
Our team at Future Crunch will be right there with you, trying (and failing) to be funny, dredging up questionable content from every corner of the interwebz, and giving you plenty of fuel along the way.