Wednesday 25 February 2015

american optimism

Optimism is essential to achievement and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress
- Nicholas Murray Butler (Nobel Peace Prize recipient)
Flag by Jasper Johns, c/o Wikipedia

 One thing I have been accused of since moving to Sydney is that I can be too optimistic (as if there is such a thing). I mostly assumed it was a personality trait, and generally accept it as a compliment not a criticism (even if it was intended as the latter). Then last week I was attending a lecture by a visiting professor from the US, Richard Maxwell, who was discussing greening media technology, when a comment from the crowd teasingly referred to his 'California optimism'.

Aha! A fellow optimist in the room! And he's a fellow American - could this be a national trait?

Then Friday I attended an event organised by that featured another American, Bob Massie, a leading thinker in sustainable development. His speech was incredibly powerful and uplifting, and he ended by saying we must not allow ourselves to be defeated through the 'derision of people who thought they knew better'*. We must maintain a vision of a better future at all costs.

He was a gifted orator, and I was struck by how dramatically his speech differed to the activist speeches I have grown accustomed to, which can appear fueled by rage, not hope.

Hope is a powerful tool.

Hope has driven social change throughout history, ranging from the women's suffrage movement to the civil rights movement, and multitudes more before and after.

Hope enables me to see beyond despairing statistics and the anti-environmental denialist campaigns to envision a sustainable and just future.

Having hope does not mean that you don't see the challenges ahead, but that you've seen them and have decided to fight anyway.

So I thank these two American thinkers for coming to Australia and sharing their progressive and optimistic thoughts with us Sydneysiders. And I want to thank them personally for this reminder that, among all the incredible gifts I received through the chance of being born an American, optimism and hope are two of the most important.

So next time I get accused of being too optimistic, I'll just say thanks, I was born that way.

I had this poster on my wall in my first apartment.
Image c/o Wikimedia Commons

*Massie was quoting Albie Sachs, South African activist and former judge

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