Optimism: hopefulness or confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.
To understand what optimism is in the context of what can feel like an overwhelming year, I figure a good way to start is to look at what the word itself means. The Latin root 'opti', means light or sight; The Latin root 'opt', means to choose, and the suffix 'ism', means belief. String all of this together, and optimism takes on a deeper, more philosophical definition than listed above this paragraph. It would essentially work out to this: Optimism is belief in the choice to see light.
Darkness is easy to see. It's effortless actually. You don't even have to open your eyes to see it. It's on the news every day. Especially in the year 2020, but also in years prior, it seems like horrible things compound on one another. Every bad thing that happens is reported and commented on by not only our often unqualified news anchors, but also our unqualified Facebook friends. The pessimist sees this incessant negativity and internalizes it. They believe what they hear most often, which is usually bad.
Why is the news always so bad? It might be because human beings are genetically predisposed to internalize danger so to protect ourselves. There's biological mechanisms inside each one of us that wants to hear every bit of bad news there is so we can protect ourselves. So bad news gets our attention. The problem with this is that our attention is worth money. And who is to stop anybody from capitalizing on that commodity by manufacturing scary falsehoods to keep us watching and thus keeping ad revenue flowing?
And what about Facebook friends? They aren't being paid to post about how bad things are online, right? Well actually, yes, just not with money. They're being paid in importance. Think about it. Don't you get a strange rush every time something bad happens and you break the news to someone before anyone else did? It's not necessarily excitement, but a sense of duty, like you did something important by relaying the information. That's why your Facebook friends love sharing bad news.
So what does an optimist do in a year like 2020? By definition, an optimist believes in the choice to see the light, right? That's just what an optimist does. In the 20th century, we saw 2 World Wars, a Great Depression, a massive pandemic, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the genocide of millions of Jews in the Holocaust. And that's not even scratching the surface. Yet still, here we are in 2020, alive and quite honestly still thriving. How?
It would have been so easy for the masses to decide that the wrath of God was upon them and civilization itself was doomed in the 20th century. The amount of suffering in that 100 year period of time is unfathomable. But the optimists chose to believe there was light to see. There had to be. If not, we wouldn't be here. If we had let our cynicism get the best of us entirely, we would have destroyed ourselves in the Cold War, given up on the pursuit of happiness after the Great Depression, or surrendered to the tyranny and evil of Adolf Hitler. And how terrible of a world would that be? But we didn't give into any of those temptations to give up. We believed we could do better, and we moved forward.
2020 has been dark so far. No question about it. But what if we chose to believe there was light to see? I believe the optimists are currently and will continue to rise from the darkness of this year, in search of light that they know is above ground. They will search, and they will find it. And we will be better for it. Optimism looks in the same in 2020 as it has throughout all of human history. Optimism is an explorer lost in a dark cave, remembering what the sun was like, knowing that despite not being able to see it, it's still as real as when he could.
Believe that there is light to be found. Opt in to optimism. There is much to build and improve upon.