The leap to optimism

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

I'm going to say something that you may think me crazy to say. But I believe that the future is extremely bright. I believe that the future is hopeful. And I think that this [younger] generation is absolutely committed to making the world a better place. And I think they have the means to do it. And I think that if the world does not become a better place by the time I'm 50 or 60, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We have the will. We have the drive. We have the knowledge of the world at our fingertips. I think the resources available to us are unparalleled and light the way to, I think, a great future.

— Mohammed Fairouz



Do you share the optimism that 29-year-old Mohammed Fairouz professes about the future (in an "On Being" conversation with Krista Tippett on NPR last Sunday)? If you do, are you reluctant to admit it publicly for fear of being branded "naïve"? 

I share his optimism, and even though I share with many the reluctance to say so, I believe we're entering an Age of Transformation. 

Yes, I know. Right now things look bleak. And it may get even worse. Possibly much worse. But something better is coming. Much better (I hope). It's a feeling. A leap of faith. The triumph of hope over experience? Perhaps, but I believe somehow, some way, we will transform life on Earth — before it's too late. We will break the stranglehold of the shortsighted, the greedy, the fearful, the power-obsessed, the brutal, the ruthless, and their political enablers, the elected obstructionists.

Yes, the morning newscasts more closely resemble a daily body count, a catalog of the latest catastrophes, a laundry list of man's inhumanity to man.

But that is the old world falling apart. It has to fall apart for transformation to take place. You and I may not be able to see the impact just yet, but it's happening, and we're nearing the tipping point, the point where, for the second time in human history, as Chardin predicted, human beings will discover fire. The fire in our collective soul.

Wishful thinking, you say? Your skepticism is understandable. We've been conditioned since birth to expect the worst, to see the world in decline. I suspect if a poll asked people if our planet is doomed and all life with it, 90 percent would agree.

But that's where the transformation begins — moving from pessimism to optimism, from fear to courage, from fragmentation to unity. E Pluribus Unum — "Out of Many, One" — our national motto. 

How will it happen? Person by person, building to an irreversible groundswell — a response to our endangered planet — transcending our flawed institutions and obsolete traditions, reinventing from the rubble of what no longer works. A healthier, more just, more equitable, more sustainable world. 

People are already changing, have been for 50 years. As Mohammed Fairouz indicates, it involves the Internet and greater access to information. In addition, breakthroughs in neurology are helping us understand more about ourselves. Have you noticed the way yoga and meditation have spread like wildfire just in the last decade? Something is shifting. Look around and you'll see it, too.

Everyone has a part to play, a contribution to make.

I'm simply offering a vision of a world transformed for the good. Not utopia — there is no such thing — but a world that can be sustained. The unsustainable world we created has brought us to the brink of planetary destruction. We had to get to this point before a sufficient number of us could wake up. Not everyone is awake yet. Far from it. But at some point, the momentum will be unstoppable.

What's to be done? Much. Fortunately, many are already doing it through countless disconnected organizations. As a journalist, I've been privileged to witness some of these efforts — by admirable people dedicated to making things better. Even institutions like the Catholic Church are changing. The faithful are no longer blindly following.

The 1% did us a favor by hoarding the wealth. We weren't corrupted by prosperity. When things are going well, human beings fall asleep. Since the last major downturn, a lot more people have awakened. The level of insecurity is driving transformation. Our bargain with the devil — compliance in return for safety— only made us less safe. We know that now. We're forced to choose change. Power may look invincible, but it is corrupt and must fall apart. Slowly but surely, we are building something to take its place — something stronger, more human. It's all grass roots, but the root system of grass is highly interconnected.

Everyone has to find his or her own method to make things better. That's how we should be living anyway. It's what makes life meaningful.

But the first step is accepting that it's even possible. We have a hard time believing that we're evolving toward a better world — though many are living as if they do.

I believe we're going to make it. If you believe it, really believe it, don't keep it to yourself. We're living in a time of discouragement and disillusionment. We need to tap the positive energy of optimism. Look around.

It's time to rediscover fire.


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