Optimism Does Not Mean Accepting the Status Quo
I met Eve when I was living in a hippy community in Germany. She was kind and funny, and incredibly optimistic. She told me about her semester abroad in Russia, where she had been hosted by an unfriendly woman with a dozen cats, who wouldn’t allow her to take showers and would berate her in Russian, whatever she was doing. To make it through the long months, Eve started playing a game where she would count how many cat hairs made it into her dinner each night. She reached 15.
Eve’s positivity made being around her feel like basking in the warm summer sun. We hitchhiked to Prague together for a weekend, stayed in a very shitty hostel, and it was one of the best trips of my life because we laughed until our tummies hurt about how bad the hostel was, and laughed again when our beds collapsed in the middle of the night, and when breakfast was a cheap loaf of bread and butter that was greying around the edges.
What I learned from Eve is how strong being an optimist makes you. It meant that she could face up to challenging situations, and turn them into happy ones. It also meant that she had the strength to change things. She moved from the mean lady’s house to a flatshare. We ran away from the hostel as fast as we could and delved into the streets of Prague. Positivity allowed us to laugh at the bad, and head out to seek better things.
Often, we present optimism as a form of naiveness. To be naive is to be a pushover, to be a little bit simple. But it takes strength to see the funny side of life. Today, Self-Care tends to present optimism as a synonym of acceptance. You should take things the way they are and act happy. But that isn’t what optimism is about either. Optimism isn’t about accepting the status quo, but about knowing things can be better, that we can collectively make them better, with our attitudes and our actions.
Often, we present social justice warriors, or anyone fighting for a better world, as pessimists. When you are an activist, you get criticised for not seeing the good side of things. It is an argument which is constantly thrown at feminists, “but things have improved so much! a century ago you couldn’t even vote!” It’s true, we have made progress (through other people’s hard work). But feminists are optimistic enough to think things can get better.
Pessimism immobilises you. Why would you seek change if you know you will see the bad everywhere? Optimism spurs you on. It is about seeing how things can be better, everywhere you go.
Looking at today’s world, there is so much that needs changing it feels overwhelming. We need to invent a new way of living, because illimited consumerism in a limited world cannot work. We need to fight oppression wherever we find it so that every individual’s humanity is respected.
The task is daunting. It will take a lot of optimism, and the strength to believe that things will be better.