RODALE NEWS, LENOX, MA—Next week we’ll say goodbye to a very rough year and an even rougher decade. The first ten years of this century brought us…a terrorist attack, two wars, Hurricane Katrina, spiraling healthcare costs, economic collapse, a flu pandemic, and global climate change…
How optimistic are you about the rest of this century?
You may be wondering how anyone even could be optimistic about the future. As for me, I am very worried about the economic, environmental, and geopolitical future that our children will be inheriting.
But I am even more worried about leaving them a legacy of cynicism, hopelessness, and despair. Trust in our government and the large institutions of society seems to be at an all-time low. While I believe skepticism is warranted, I don't want our children to grow up alienated and disengaged. They need to clearly understand the problems we face, and be willing to confront them. I want them to believe they can work constructively with others to bring about positive change. Which is why it's important that we learn how to be optimistic in the face of the challenges ahead. But it has to be the right kind of optimism.
THE DETAILS: Somewhere between the reckless optimism of mortgage-backed securities and the cynical pessimism of me-first materialism is a realistic optimism that is a powerful force for change. Imagining what is possible is a lightning rod that channels positive energy into constructive action. Realistically optimistic people don't take a pollyanna view that somehow things will magically work out. Rather, they work to create a self-fulfilling prophecy that shapes the future the hope for.
In the little town where I live, committed people volunteer their resourcefulness and energy to address the needs of others: healthcare providers offer care at a free clinic, concerned citizens raise funds and volunteer in the schools to make up for state budget cuts, a local nutrition center offers free nutrition counseling and free meals. The good that they do not only touches people in need of immediate help, it contributes to a better future. Our kids see these acts of service. They too feel moved to act—working in a soup kitchen, teaching English to recent immigrants, writing letters for Amnesty International.