Optimism in light of 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, sweet friends!  I hope for you that your holiday has given a bit of reprieve, tastes of joy, and a moment or two of rejuvenation - amidst the common chaos and mixed bag the holidays bring.  And as we step closer towards the new year, the opportunity to reflect on our construction of a fresh start.  Why not take it?

Most people know I am an optimist.  Or so I choose to be.  I come back again and again to the foundational idea that our perception is our reality, not reality itself, and our action is power.  Therefore, knowing myself will give me an understanding of reality (as I see it), and furthermore, shape my action within that reality.

However, optimism can be easily dismissed or seemingly trivial after a year like 2016.  I have had countless conversations with friends about the darkness of this past year.  So much to mourn, so much violence, so much uncertainty and fear.  But this is only part of the story, no?  I am convinced that the dark must always be balanced with the light.  It is just as present and real, simply, and sadly, less featured.  But we must hold both, or we get risk getting lost in this busy world.   

It is after conversations like these that I am happy to be introduced to professor Steven Pinker who encourages us to look at history and data, not headlines.  (A great new year’s read might be Pinker’s ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’ - the steady decline in violence over the past several centuries, which, he writes, "may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species.”)  Statistically, the world continues to improve in just about every way (read the interview with Pinker here). This is good news and a truer, fuller perspective.  

The article ends with economist Paul Romer’s distinction between complacent optimism and conditional optimism.  Complacent optimism described as the feeling of a child waiting for presents, whereas conditional optimism is the feeling of a child who wants a treehouse and realizes that if he gets some wood and nails and persuades other kids to help him, he can build one.  I love this distinction.  I am compelled to optimism not only because when I test my perception, I am always astounded by the light - and further, because if/when I fail to see it, I have the power to create it.  May this understanding propel us into a bright 2017!