Reflection 10: Being an Unhappy Optimist
Until recently, a pessimistic lifestyle seemed a logical place to end up. Whenever people think that they’ve seen enough, the world pours thousands of lemons. Especially during the pandemic, I’ve got into a few heated about the justification of skepticism. Sometimes the feeling is related to a personal matter. Sometimes it is about rather bigger issues. At the end of the discussion, I tend to be described as an “idealistic optimist,” even though I share the sentiment. One of the reasons I insist on staying positive is that what is right is about attitude most of the time.
First of all, the term “attitude” has nothing to do with Emmanuel Kant. Ethics sometimes is a matter of how to approach the world. It is about where you stand. The meaningful change is slow and rare. It is a process to endure. Once you get skeptical, it becomes even a longer way to go. What is right can be represented as what one believes in. I understand how people feel. You have to witness the problem and then comprehend that the change is needed. This step itself is excruciating. I’ve despaired and raged as well. The issues repeatedly happen, which is worse. Yes, these intense feelings can fuel you. The drive, however, is short-lived. What I have learned from being a person who has always been angry at the world, being a pessimist is not cool. It might reduce the pain for a short while, but it will eventually bring you to the deep hole of cynicism.
I had to add Chloe Zhao’s Oscars speech in this context. Many people who want to build a better world often tell me that others are evil. Eventually, this statement makes them tired of trying to achieve things. There are various Chinese thoughts about human nature before the common era, and all of them make sense. I don’t want to debate the ideas. Despite where they come from, it is important to believe that there is goodness in people. What’s the worth of being negative about the future if you want to bring any changes? Not to get discouraged, people need an anchor. Sometimes it can be an allyship that makes them not feel pessimistic. For some people, the ground could be personal experiences. I think the belief of the development in human history should be one of them. It is a good one to keep many of them going, including me.
Rage evokes fights toward the wrongness in society. I don’t deny it. However, to fight a long fight, I need to be an optimist. Without that minimum ground, it will be hard to continue struggling. I am pretty much unhappy but still think a better future will come. It is not only an attitude but a goal for me. I’ll spare the next two paragraphs to talk about two points. First, does being an optimist enable naivité? Second, should pessimists stop being so?
First question. I understand that presuming the positive future can imply Que-sera-sera. Being optimistic certainly does have the tone that guarantees a brighter future. I am trying to explain here that it’s not bad to be a little so if you maintain to see the problems. Sometimes, people should try to put rose-colored glasses on to make changes. I often get sad when people with goodness start to doubt themselves. My point is that when the light of hope is dim, it is good to believe that a better world is yet to come. It is so easy to develop skepticism into giving up the fight. In my opinion, that is the worst outcome. It surely sounds tacky, but hope matters.
The next question. I am not telling pessimistic people to turn into an optimist. They are more than qualified to be. All I need is that when they feel discouraged, there are always some people to talk to and share motivations. The saying that it will get better might bore them or even offend them. I’ve been there. However, the discussion/debate would help. People develop some good points or get inspiration from a different perspective. Moreover, I think what they need is a little more cheer and a willingness to move forward. It is all about the balance, after all.
Being an optimist is not fun, especially when you acknowledge that the world is burning. I am, however, proudly say that I am positive that a better future will come not to burn myself out. Also, to help others to think about their role in it. Therefore, I will keep talking to exhausted minds that it will eventually worth it, that we can achieve things in our lifetime, and that we still have responsibilities to throw pebbles in the pond even though it seems still.