Monday, 24 August 2009

Eternal optimist

One of the challenges of being older is to stay optimistic about life when long experience of people's rampant nastiness and stupidity can easily lead to engrained cynicism.

After 62 years of watching relentless violence, carnage, greed and selfishness, it would be easy to conclude that humanity is doomed and expecting anything better is just self-delusion.

But despite everything I remain a stubborn optimist still convinced that if enough people saw the futility of their behaviour and changed course, the world could still turn into a better and more civilised place than it is right now.

It's completely irrational, I know, to think like this when every day the media are reporting new atrocities and depravities and millions are dying of preventable illnesses, but history is full of irrational people who believed in something that on the face of it was utterly impossible.

Yes, on the one hand I think of the tens of thousands who have died unnecessarily in Iraq. But five minutes later I think of the invention of antibiotics, the ending of apartheid in South Africa, or the arrival of electricity.

For every example of wanton destruction, there's another example of inspired creativity or selfless compassion, much of it hidden from view because the news headlines are dominated by tragedy and horror.

In my own life I can think of people who have unstintingly cared for those with disabling illnesses, people who have worked tirelessly to improve their local communities, or people who have battled fearlessly against prejudice and corruption.

I refuse to believe human beings are so degenerate they can only end up wiping themselves from the face of the planet. People have predicted that many times before but they were always wrong.

"Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing" - Arundhati Roy

22 comments:

Baino said...

Nick I wish indeed that I could share your optimism but throughout the entire history of mankind, we have thrived on war as a way of regulating the world. I consider myself reasonably optimistic but I can't see it changing any time soon. There might be a geographical or cultural shift, maybe the west will go into demise but there will always be a super power, poverty, war, disease. I just thank my lucky stars that I was born on the 'right' side of the fence.

K8 the Gr8 said...

The Celestine Prophecy - send out positive energy as much as you can and everything will be okay so long as others do the same thing. :)

62?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Wisewebwoman said...

I still maintain we are Gaia's crowning achievement and if she extinguishes us that's all fine and dandy too.
But I also like to believe that can be far greater if we put on the brakes - particularly but not limited to population control.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Baino - Perhaps I just haven't been exposed to ENOUGH nastiness and stupidity to realise nothing's ever going to change! Maybe because I was also born on the right side of the fence....

K8 - Indeed, the power of positive thinking. Except that too many people still believe in the power of negative thinking. Yup, 62 - even older than Grandad, I think?

www - Yes, perhaps the planet would be better off if we were all wiped out and it was left to the non-human species. That would solve the global warming problem.

Thriftcriminal said...

I too remain optomistic. However my optomism stems from the knowledge that species have a limited lifespan, so sooner or later we'll stop fucking up a perfectly good world.

Grannymar said...

I used to worry about these things, but then realised I in my little world had no power to change it. Most of the problems were caused by greed, and sorry guys, but most of the wars were started by men!

Rummuser said...

Nick, our whole approach has been to aim for the perfect/ideal. This has been the problem. If, like the people that you mention about, each of us could do our bit to bring about some change for the better in something or somebody, that should sustain hope. Most of us do, but the minority of those that can bring about change in large scale to take humanity to the 'perfect', do not seem to have the heart, bar a few. If we could convert those from a mentality of want to one of abundance, we can get closer to the 'perfect'. The question is who is to bell the cat? Idealists, the moment that they get power, seem to metamorphosise into monsters!

Quickroute said...

I think my optimism has faded over the years - I feel older than I am. I read Celestine Prophecy as mentioned by K8 above- if only fiction could follow reality instead of visa versa

Nick said...

Thrifty - Except that our lifespans seem to be increasing due to the miracles of medical progress.

Grannymar - Indeed, most wars are started by men, though women like Golda Meir and Margaret Thatcher were keen to get in on the act.

Ramana - It would be a great step forward if we could think in terms of abundance rather than want. Who really needs a high definition TV or a patio heater? And yes, how quickly the idealists change their spots when they get their sticky paws on power!

Quicky - I think fiction and reality influence each other. Perhaps the problem is that fiction doesn't provide enough models of a more caring, compassionate society.

Suburbia said...

Fantastic quote.

I am also an optimist, the media has a lot to answer for.

K8 the Gr8 said...

Having met you in the flesh I'm absolutely flabbergasted!!! Do you pickle yourself in vinegar every night? What's your secret?!?!

Thriftcriminal said...

Nick that's just another part of the problem, leading to overpopulation. And your carbon footprint would be a good chunk smaller had you passed on 25 years ago ;-)

Nick said...

Suburbia - it's a fabulous quote, isn't it? The media are fixated on doom and gloom - unfortunately that's what the customers seem to want.

K8 - I remember you saying you met me at the Irish Blog Awards, but it weren't me. There are so many impostors out there, desperate to share my international acclaim. Sad really. Check the photo on my very first post....

Nick said...

Thrifty - Oh, I agree over-population is a major problem. But of course politicians don't dare say "Stop breeding, you mindless idiots". And personally, I hope to God I don't live long enough to be a senile, crumbling nonagenarian.

Hullaballoo said...

Optimism is vital, more so in the face of continuined disappointment.

It can take just one person to either make life worth living for millions of others.

Nick said...

Hulla - So true that one powerful person can ruin or enrich the lives of millions. And when I look at all the ruthless tyrants around the world, I also think of all the tyrants who've been got rid of by popular uprisings.

Leah said...

This is a wonderful post. I'm 39 and a cynic, at times. But I have my moments of hopefulness too, despite myself. Cynicism can be a way to give up on helping the world become better, I always say it's sort of the lazy way out, so I guard against that with myself. Having a daughter has made me keep my cynicism a bit more under wraps too.

And yes, that quote is absolutely inspiring. Thanks Nick.

Los Angelista said...

It's wonderful that you're able to be so optimistic still. I strive to be so, and, like you said, it helps to think of the change that has happened for the better. When I was a kid I never believed I'd see the end of the cold war, the fall of the Berlin wall. Or a black president. So three cheers for optimism!

Nick said...

Leah - It's the lazy way out, that's for sure. So easy just to dismiss the possibility of a better future by saying everything's too rotten to change. Or even plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Nick said...

Liz - It's not always easy. There are days so full of calamity and cruelty I think there's no hope for the world. Then I remind myself of all the positive things people are quietly getting on with well away from the rawcous headlines.

Liz said...

Absolutely, nick! I believe that most people are basically good. (As I wrote that I thought, 'Do I?' But, yes, I do.)

Nick said...

Welsh Liz - So do I. I suppose a few people are intrinsically evil, but many more are only violent and nasty because of a totally unloving and uncaring upbringing.