“Optimism is a political act. Those who benefit from the status quo are perfectly happy for us to think nothing is going to get any better. In fact, these days, cynicism is obedience.”
Alex Steffen (The Bright Green City)
What will it take for us to regain our optimism? We have become enmeshed in cynicism and disdain for humanity. Granted, there's much to be cynical about these days, but truth is, it's also just a distraction. All this carping and grousing keeps us stuck in the mire while blaming “the powers that be” for all the problems. I know, because I'm doing it myself. It's a way of deflecting responsibility from what I need to do to make the world a better place, or at least my little patch of it.
Here are some things that make me feel optimistic about our future. Many of our young people are becoming activists. They are writing, protesting, marching and making their voices heard. And best of all, they are voting. People are moving back to the city from the suburbs—they want walkable neighborhoods, where cars are less necessary, and cities are stepping up and providing the amenities. Even right here in old, stuck-in-the-mud, forever-backward Alabama, there are pockets of light. Birmingham has loads of solar powered bike stands, and is making the effort to repave and create off-ramps on the sidewalks. Night life is alive and well downtown in fully occupied buildings and lofts. Publix has built a downtown grocery store, and the farmer's market is now open, even in winter. All of these things are good for the environment.
Diversity is now a demand, and not a threat, in this part of the world. Let me repeat that—in Birmingham, Alabama, seat of the civil rights movement, fire-hoses and mad-dogs—we want a diverse population more than ever before. I have stopped going to parts of town that are white-only, not so much as protest, but because I don't feel comfortable in such crowds. I know other people who feel the same way, and are behaving similarly. America is diverse, and I want to be part of that. Call me whatever you want—a bleeding heart liberal—a snooty intellectual, whatever, I value reason and science and facts, and take the time to check things out before I put my trust in them. Ignorance is not a badge of courage or resistance—it's still just plain ignorance.
I don't believe the free market has the answers to all our problems. On the other hand, I don't think government does either. We have to work together, negotiate and be smart—not just react and obstruct and protest. All of us must ask ourselves what we can do personally to make life better for all of us. There are people who genuinely need help, who cannot live without the help of others—I had two sisters who fell into this camp. And there are many whose path to a brighter future is prevented because of race, religion, nationality or sexual orientation. The common factor is our humanity—whether we are different in these ways, we are all children of this green earth, and equal in the eyes of one Creator. It's time to embrace one another and stop all the griping. I'm optimistic that we can do that. We just have to reject cynicism, and we'll be well on our way.
In the Spirit,