Finding hope and optimism in a stressed world

We live on a planet under great stresses. Collectively, we are struggling to look after each other and the natural world we depend upon. Many of the environmental and social trends suggest we’re in for a tough time ahead. For many of us, we live with an uncomfortable gap between our everyday actions, and the actions required of us to lighten our footprint, easing the destruction we leave for our children to inherit.

I’m an optimist and a realist. Against my greatest wishes, I live in expectation of further anthropogenic climate change. The confluence of other trends too, both environmental and social, lead me to expect that many will suffer great difficulties in accessing the most basic resources. With great sadness, I live with doubts on whether equality and the eradication of poverty will ever be achieved.

Yet while holding all of this fear and despair in one hand, with the other hand, I simultaneously hold tightly onto an optimism and hope for a better world to rise.

I believe we can build our communities to have more resilience: to more resourceful, productive, fairer, safer and more inclusive. I believe that the neoliberal, capitalist values that currently dominate our economy, which struggle to acknowledge limits to growth, can undergo a great transformation to become fairer, serving both people and the planet. I believe that compassion can be infectious. That people have huge capacities for empathy, peace-making and sacrifice. I believe in our long track record of creativity and ingenuity. If focused in the right way, we can accelerate the social, cultural, technical innovation required for a better future.

We must not wallow in apathy and despair. It is possible to simultaneously live with our doubts, our fears and disappointments, yet hold onto optimism and hope. What else can we do but try and construct a better society? To be part of a struggle for something better.

It is often imagined that there is a destination in all of this. Yet this is a rough journey with no definitive end. Generations will rise and fall, each facing new, unexpected challenges that we cannot predict. They, like us, will be tasked to be brave, forgiving, to seek truth and develop intelligent, caring responses that helps us to move forward.

While we can’t predict the future, we can look to the horizon, anticipate future challenges and construct responses that support a more harmonious, sustainable society. It’s a difficult truth to accept that we cannot fix all the world’s problems. Perhaps it helps to imagine an arc-shaped trajectory. The best we can do is bend this arc a little more, towards something better.