Thursday, May 24, 2007

Stubborn Optimism

Its hard not to fall into the allure of cynicism these days. Indeed, it seems to abound in the blogosphere as well as other communication mediums. Some of my favorite blogs from the past and present relay heavily on appealing to your darker, more pessimistic side (For example, one of the most popular blogs and one I only recently quit reading is Wonkette, a bitingly sarcastic and humorous political blog).

In some ways it is easy to understand why people in the United States are feeling rather cynical. We are in a dead-end war with no end in sight and young men and women dieing each day, we live in a time when weather patterns seem to be dramatically changing due to greenhouse warming, political bickering and partisanship is as strong as it has ever been, almost locking our country in gridlock.

School and college shootings continue to happen with terrible frequency, poverty and aids continue unabated on the worldwide stage, religious animosity has been greatly heightened over the past several years, even to stable honeybee is abandoning us! Are you depressed yet? There seems to be legions of folks coming out of the woodwork to capitalize on this darkened national mood. Pundits on both sides of the political spectrum wag their tongues about the ethical and moral failings of the other, no longer debating the issues but rather engaging freely in ad hominem attacks.

And yet….

I do believe there are many reasons to be stubbornly optimistic these days. Its all a matter of perspective, or vantage point if you will. I would suggest that many, if not all, of the problems being addressed today have been around throughout human history, albeit in slightly different forms. Certainly violence against each other, racism, poverty, religious wars and natural disasters have always been with us. Other issues, such as pollution and greenhouse warming, are new problems, yet the roots of such issues I believe lie deep in the human psyche (particularly in the Euro-Caucasian desire to subdue and conquer nature, as certainly other societies have done a far better job at leaving in harmony with nature).

If we can grant that many of the issues of today have been around in some form for many hundreds of years, why do they seem so starkly evident today. Why the dark pessimism that abounds at least in much of the industrialized world? I would suggest that globalization and the incredible technology boom of the last fifty years have made us more aware of pre-existing issues. This is not to be confused with creating new issues, although there are certainly some cases where that has happened. This awareness has led to a lot of strife and anger, as people and societies struggle to understand where we went wrong. Unfortunately far more energy is spent attacking speculative sources instead of fixing the issues.

The good news is, awareness is the first step. Indeed, awareness is the most important step in transformation. This might seem unfounded, as being aware of a problem is not the same as fixing the problem. However many times the solution unfolds as one becomes aware. That is to say, the problem was sustained by lack of awareness. A strong corollary can be made here between the psychology of personal growth and of societal change. The distinction being that a society has an incredible spectrum of diversity compared to a single person, so the process of change is invariably more complex.

Indeed, I do claim that these are good days. We are aware of and confronted with more problems than ever before in human history. Aid, poverty, global warming, unsustainable use of our resources, confrontation between religious groups and societies, all of these issues and many more challenge us on a daily basis as we watch the news, surf the web, and talk with our friends and colleagues. Change is hard and often painful, but the results are absolutely worthwhile. Key to being a productive and active participant in this process is refusing to engage in the dark cynicism of those around us, and instead stubbornly hold fast to the big picture that is unfolding, the growing pains of our society and of the world, refusing to give up the notion that this world can and will become a better place.