Before I begin my campaign for the bright side, I’d like to give a brief shout out to my own inner cynic, because frankly I don’t think I would have made a single friend in high school without her. I haven’t seen her in a while, but I know she’s still in there, most likely leaning casually against something, smoking a cigarette. Her extremely sophisticated air of ennui is derived from a brief existential crisis she had in the late 80’s that mostly involved listening to Duran Duran and reading Wuthering Heights. Once a decade she buys a leather jacket. She also suffers deeply for her art, which explains the mood swings.
The person who came before her was an optimist. She was uncool. Art was fun. She liked everyone and everything except fried liver and celery. She did not have a leather jacket. She had a wool coat with toggles on it. It was much more comfortable.
Also, dogs are optimists, which speaks for itself.
So I am an optimist. There I said it. I am optimistic about more or less everything. Oh, sure, I have my days. I’ve had my decades. But underneath all of the conditioning and the social pressure to conform to pessimism being just another way to say realistic, I am a bonafide can-find-the-silver-lining-in-more-or-less-anything optimist.
Just writing these last few sentences has provoked the tomato and rotten cabbage throwers who just live for me admitting to this stuff. My inner critics are a hybrid of “Mean Girls” and a group of medieval villagers who love nothing more than to come out at the weekend for a good public hanging. (There are also a couple of intellectuals who look at me over their glasses. They don’t actually do or say anything. It’s more of a back of the throat scoffing sound followed by a condescending sniff. I prefer the tomato throwers.)
But here’s what they all have to say to me about being an optimist: “Shame on you. Don’t you know how people are suffering in the world, have suffered, continue to suffer. Of course you can find silver linings in your first world problems.” Believe me when I say that when my heart begins to effuse with hope and optimism, the most atrocious tragedies in history and the world today present themselves to me with a shaming, wagging finger. Otherwise it’s a patronising, head cocked slightly to one side speech about how naive and uninformed I am.
But my optimism is not based on statistics, the tracking of historical events or the day-to-day struggles of all human beings. It is not even derived from a denial of the realities of climate change. It is based on the golden thread that I see and feel in it all. Because we have never, in my opinion, been as connected as we are today. Connection is really all there is.
I know, I know, we’re all dissociating into our cell phones, TVs, drink, drugs, food, work, intellectualism, adrenaline, high achieving, sex, romance, religion, a compulsion to be right about everything, whatever gets you through the day. There was a time when we lived in real communities where people were connected to nature and you had to actually ask someone out in person if you wanted a date. We were slow, we ate dinner together. Now we’re fast and we grab a bite. But we were also more isolated, doing it our way. Maybe the only way we knew.
Telephones, television, radio, computers, airplanes, cars. We talk about the evils of these things. Carbon footprints, or how kids don’t play anymore, or how people don’t travel enough in their own country. Or that nations are infiltrating countries and abusing indigenous cultures from a place of power, righteousness or personal gain. All of this is true but also these technological advancements have connected us and broken down walls. They have introduced us to alternative ways of thinking and living from the cultures into which we were born. God help us, now we have the internet. Now nearly anyone can say anything and within 3 seconds or less or more (I really don’t know how it works) someone on another continent can read it and love it or hate it or think about it or ignore it. But they have connected with someone or an idea that they otherwise wouldn’t have done.
What I see happening now is something like the blended family effect. I’m sure that some couples pull that off with great success. But sometimes there are teething problems. At least for a while. Are we making a mess of becoming more widely and more intimately connected? Of course, we are. We had to start somewhere. Because human beings spend so much of the time just trying to feel safe. And different than what we know, what’s familiar, what we’ve built the foundation of our security on often doesn’t feel safe. So, here we are, fighting to be right, proving our entitlement to what we believe are limited resources or trying to claim them under false pretenses. We’re trying to be in charge or to inflict our beliefs. And we’re not blind.
We can see the mess, the destruction, how we’re not doing very well at it. But I think it’s a mistake to believe that going backward to a more disconnected, less integrated time is the answer. I think we’re just in the early stages of something here. Because we’re also listening, reading, visiting, talking, experiencing and integrating. All different ways to connect. And we’re doing it more than ever.
We may not always like what we hear or find, but it’s funny how we get used to a thing, in time. Or maybe we just learn from it.
I love nothing more than the genuine intimacy that can only be gained from human to human contact. But what if, as part of our evolution and becoming more connected to each other, we needed all this Facebook and TV time, and everything else we’re doing that takes us outside of what we know. To connect to people, places, and ideas that can show us or teach us something new about being human or being alive. What if this information overload is just the pendulum swinging. We are crossing borders more than we ever have. Walls are coming down. Or we’re reacting more strongly to walls going up. And it is happening at every level. We’re still crossing borders abusively, and disrespectfully, but we are also doing it with curiosity and humility and wonder.
In 2006, Crash won the oscar for Best Picture. I was in traffic when I heard the news and did a little car dance in my seat. That film—easily in my top 10—said in many ways what I’m trying to say here: We are not an awful, shameful, hopeless species in decline; we are confused, often frightened and a work in progress. That perfect line in the film, “I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.” Our instinct is to move into each other’s space and to connect. We want to be together. We’re just figuring out how to do that on a larger scale than we ever have before. So we’re often ‘crashing’ into each other. The instinct is ultimately one that comes from a place where we know that we are not separate—even when our differences create the illusion that we are—but that oneness will not be created by sameness.
I am optimistic. I know that even when a connection is difficult or conflicted, it moves us all closer to each other. How else are we going to work out our differences? Not by becoming the same but by learning to value difference. Knowing that agreeing with someone isn’t loving them. That’s just when love is easy.
A version of this post was originally published on the author’s blog at Natalie Peatfield and is republished here with her permission.
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