It’s time to embrace optimism as a fuel for change, says Lucy Mangan
Do you know that if you stand by a wall and press the outer length of your arm hard against it, when you step away your arm will lift of its own accord due to the sudden relief of pressure?
That’s me now. I am that arm. And I am not alone. All around me, on my social feeds and in real life, people are walking around with odd sensations coursing through their bodies. It’s been a long time since it last happened, so let me explain: a critical mass of good news has recently accumulated and induced a feeling of emotional wellbeing called “optimism”. It is the result of:
- The Thai caves rescue. What unspeakable bravery. What extraordinary international cooperation and selflessness. To watch experts from all over the world devote their skills to the most extraordinary – and successful – mission, a community gathering to press their own resources into use, together with the sacrifice made by former Thai Navy Seal Major Saman Gunan, who died bringing oxygen tanks to the boys’ cave, has been a beautiful, profound, inspiring and uplifting sight.
- The Football. Yes, they narrowly lost to Croatia in the semi-final, but there is joy in simply knowing that England exceeded expectations, and – as far as the team itself is concerned, if not all the fans – with grace and style.
- The Tennis – Serena Williams sweeping all before her, smashing myths about women, sport, birth and motherhood as effortlessly as she does her first service balls.
- The Brexit… thing. It’s counterintuitive to find comfort in chaos, but then these are counterintuitive times. God knows what each particular resignation/new appointment/individual clause in the plan drawn up at Chequers means, but it all provides a welcome sense that change is afoot – even if it only amounts to an admission that everybody who’s worked on it so far has been an incompetent cheese-d**k. We can build on that better than we can idiots’ illusions.
I am literally tearful with joy to be feeling this way again. It is such a delicate, magical thing. But I am also almost afraid of it. It requires strength to be optimistic, which is why I admire the people who manage to remain so, long after most of us have fallen by the wayside and into the deep ditches of despair. It is easier to give in, to follow my naturally pessimistic temperament and to let social media and headline hot takes encourage and justify it. And I know a lot of us – maybe the majority – do the same. On the worst days, it can feel like that’s why the internet was invented.
But this is a time to fight against our natural inclinations. Optimism – which does not mean blindness to the world’s woes, nor preclude genuine anger or outrage – is a much more sustainable fuel for change. It enables you to see the value in every little piece, instead of being overwhelmed by the big picture.
Volunteers at the local laundry in Tham Luang took in rescuers’ uniforms and kit every evening and returned it all clean and ready every morning. “I cannot go down to the boys directly,” explained one. “But I can wash these clothes.” I’m taking it as my mantra from now on.
Images: Unsplash, Gul Kurtaran, Getty