Last week I switched on my TV to watch the 10 o’clock news. It’s something I hadn’t done in a while (blame my assignments and admittedly terrible work-life balance) so what I was about to see was a sight I was not prepared for. Abdul, a 10-year-old Syrian boy, lay clutching to his father and screaming. He had woken up blind – the metal shrapnel from a bomb having struck him while playing outside his home. At first, it was said to be the result of an airstrike, later it was claimed to be caused by a landmine.
Either way, what I know is that this child is a victim of war. Footage like this is difficult for me to watch, but it provides a much-needed reminder of atrocities happening around the world. Why then, after describing such a traumatic series of events, am I choosing to reflect on optimism as my most sacred value?
My reason for wanting to write about optimism is because it is easy (and very natural) to respond to Abdul’s tragedy with fear and anger. It isn’t uncommon for my dad, who watches the news every night, to mutter profanities under his breath and say things like “how would they like it if this was their child?” It is much harder to turn off the TV and still have hope for the future of the these children, and of the world. It is especially in the midst of difficult situations, that I am grateful for my optimism.
Optimism is a mental attitude of sorts, and it reflects a hopefulness and confidence for the future- the idea that good will always prevail over evil. To be optimistic about an event is to believe that it will eventually end positively. I am not sure whether I can, with absolute certainty, call myself an optimist (indeed, I wonder if it is possible to be one), as this would involve confidence in goodness winning in everything. However, I do think that this feeling comes from a place of strength, courage and, for some, faith. To be optimistic in a time of hardship is the smallest, most personal form of rebellion, it is a rejection in letting your external circumstances affect your internal mindset and state of well-being.
In my personal times of difficulty, my sense of optimism has taught me to hope, to move away from negative thinking and to be thankful. I recently took a year out of education to change my university degree course, a decision that I made despite strong objections from my friends and family. I found out, then, that optimism not only increased my faith in other people’s actions, but in myself too! Focusing on my best traits having a sense of hope that whatever I did was going to turn out well gave me the courage to take this step: it is one of the best decisions I have ever made!
I believe optimism is more than just naïve thinking, more than just blind faith without direction. It brings about courage, self-love and, above all, hope.
But what about Abdul? There are some that confuse optimism with over-idealism, a coping mechanism, a patronizing: “everything will turn out alright in the end”, which belittles the situation of Abdul. However, I believe that seeing distressing scenes such as Abdul’s can generate two responses: courageous action, or despondent passivity. As an optimist, I not only ‘believe everything is going to be okay’, but I also act in a way to make sure this happens. After watching the news that night I decided to volunteer at my local ‘City of Sanctuary’ group, an organisation supporting the resettlement of refugees and their families. I think optimism can go a long way in giving us the determination to act in the face of negativity, and maybe, just maybe, everything really will turn out well in the end.