I am part of the demographic that’s threatening to become a lost generation thanks to the economic issues we’re all facing. Optimism about the future is the only thing I know how to do right now.
It’s not so much that I look down on or dislike bitterness or people jaded by years of disappointment, because good lord are there a lot of things to be bitter and jaded about. It’s 2011 ““ we were supposed to be so advanced as to have personal jet packs and teleportation, this erosion of education funding, to name one thing, is simply unseemly.
And there’s a lot to be scared of, I’ll grant you that. It’s awful that we live in a world where young people (me! yay!) face a national unemployment rate of over 17%. It’s awful that we live in a world where underpaid, overworked teachers are painted as the “bad guy” instead of the corporate interests manipulating the system and paying nothing in taxes. It’s awful that we live in a world where all sorts of numbers are pointing to us leaving this recession, except for unemployment, indicating that we may be entering a brave new world. Things are a big mess and it’s not awesome. I’ve started grinding my teeth in my sleep.
So far so good, but here’s where I go off with my own drummer along my own path. I’d say that most people are good people with good intentions. There are some real assholes out there and I don’t care for them and I don’t care for anyone who is trying to prevent someone from living their life in a safe and self-directed way. No dice to those folks. But like I said, most people are good people with good intentions, but sometimes, with the barrage of awful news, it’s easy to forget that.
I know a lot of good people. I know a lot of people who are fired up and passionate and care very deeply about things. They are thoughtful and intelligent and open to communication.
A short anecdote: I went to a seminar recently about youth movements and environmental justice. The speaker asked us to think about injustice and to talk about how we react to it. One guy mentioned feeling sad, and that made me realize that for me, being aware of all the crap that goes down doesn’t make me sad. I have a whole different process: I get antsy, I get angry, I get active. But in that room, I was surrounded by people who cared about the issues, who came to them differently and reacted to them differently, but who, fundamentally , cared. That gives me hope.
It gives me hope to talk to new teachers, excited about working to nurture young minds.
It gives me hope to hear about my friends training to work in sexual assault and rape crisis centers.
It gives me hope to talk to fellow scientists about their work in fighting diseases, in expanding the boundaries of our knowledge, in creating a healthy environment for us and future generations.
It gives me hope to hear about people writing their thoughts, writing to others, writing to their senators.
It gives me hope to know that people are engaged.
Progress and change is going to happen. It certainly won’t be a straightforward process, though. There will be times when gains are made and times when there are devastating losses and that sucks and that’s a fact. But where we are now is so much better than where we were a century ago. That gives me hope.
I’m not saying that pessimism is incompatible with anger and action ““ it’s just incompatible for me. I need to remind myself of what gives me hope because it is too easy to get discouraged otherwise. That’s who I am ““ overly earnest and terribly cheesy ““ but that’s not everyone (thank god, we’d be no fun at all). The only thing that I’ve learned that can be generalized is this: take in all the information you can, but do not let it overwhelm you. Do whatever works best for you ““ cynicism, positivity, whatever. Just don’t stop caring.