Rooting for the Optimists

Wiser minds (and not) than mine are out there talking about “Mad Men” and what the finale meant and whether it was worth the hype and a worthy ending to the series, so I’m not going to do that here. I’ll say that I liked it, I thought it was right, and quickly move on…

My grandfather used to say that the optimist only has to be right once, that the pessimist has to keep being right. Put another way, or at the very least into my own words (I ruminate on and reinterpret these things), the optimist’s outlook is rewarded every time something good happens, whereas the pessimist’s outlook requires nothing good to happen.

When I look at the world, I wonder about that.

I see a landscape where far too many people are out there for themselves, where people don’t believe in helping one another out, and where people feel that they have to trounce the rights of others in order to exercise theirs. What may be worse is that when I turn on the news all too often I find someone in a position of authority promoting that sort of fear and ignorance.

Why is it wrong to look at a situation, attempt to determine its cause, and put forth a reasoned argument about how to fix it? Why does that need to get shouted down by so many? Whatever happened to reasoned debate? People need not agree about everything, but disagreeing with someone doesn’t require the spewing of hatred.

I am not just talking about one thing either. At this moment I could offer a laundry list of examples from the push for universal healthcare to systemic racism to the fight for a living wage to representations of women in video (and so many more). It feels like those trying to bend the moral arc of the universe towards justice aren’t dealing with people pushing it the other way as much as they’re dealing with people throwing rocks at them (with one hand and bending towards injustice with the other).

What we fail to do as a society in these debates is the right thing. One side offers an idea and essentially says, “Hey, we as a people should look at this, what we’re doing doesn’t feel right.” It is an attempt to open a dialogue and get people talking and looking at something in a way that they haven’t before. The other side, however, at best just shrugs it off with a “Nah, we’re good. We don’t think there’s a problem… except maybe you.” At worst, they start truly harassing the group suggesting that there’s a problem, never once realizing that in those actions they’re proving the group’s point.

I admire those sticking their necks out and arguing for a better, more just, world. As for the other side, I don’t know how you look at somebody who tells you that they’re feeling oppressed and offers a rational argument about where that feeling comes from and tell them to just suck it up and go away.

So, where do the optimist and the pessimist come into this stuff? I think the optimists are the folks sticking their necks out and bending that moral arc and that maybe I’m the pessimist because as much as I want them to convince the rest of the world I’m just not sure it’s possible. I think that people are too fearful of change, too worried about losing their own power, too obsessed with having more than those around them.

But, I’m still thankful for the optimists and I’m rooting for them to win.

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