The Parallel Parliament

by Glen Pearson

Tag: optimism

When We Feel We Can’t Make a Difference

Leap

“RATIONALIZATION,” SAID AUTHOR AYN RAND, “is a process of not perceiving reality, but of attempting to make reality fit one’s emotion.” We’ve all been there and often regretted not proceeding with something we felt we should achieve.

There are occasions when we don’t take something on because we have reasoned that it wouldn’t work anyway, even if we feel it was important to others or ourselves. We’re not talking about excuses here, where we didn’t want to do something anyway and manufactured reasons for declining. This is different. This is where we experience the desire to take something on, but have developed some reasons, often through experience, that make us hesitant. It’s not because we’re looking for an out; we just think the odds against us are too great. This is where Ayn Rand’s observation is helpful. It just might be that we have read the circumstances wrong or underestimated our own abilities. Here are some of the things that hold us back.

“I just don’t have enough time.” This is totally valid, but perhaps not fully accurate. We all have commitment, important ones, and that thing we really want to take on we know will take some real effort. Whether it’s volunteering, learning a new language, helping something through a mental health episode, wanting to write a book, or even just go on a special trip with our kid – all these will require real resolve and, yes, time. In a recent commencement speech, comedian Jim Carrey noted, “The decisions we make in this moment are based in either love or fear. Many of us will choose the path of fear based on practicality.” Sometimes we are afraid to take something on because of the effect it will have on other important priorities we have. Yet if it leads to a better community or even a healthier view of our own capacities, then those other important issues will be benefitted by our willingness to take the risk.

“The time just doesn’t seem right.” People who are always busy doing good things often voice these very words. But the time will never seem appropriate if our lives are taken up with so many responsibilities. Those of us who have used that rationale for inaction – haven’t we all? – often ruefully regret it in later years because we understand just how we might have been bettered by taking the leap when we had the chance. In most cases, the “right time” isn’t a period of time at all, but a concern that we might neglect something else, or that we don’t have the ability to accomplish it. The best thing is to go for it when we sense it; we can always change our plans later if it doesn’t work out.

“I’m too young.” That is likely true when it comes to the perspective of others, but our modern world is showing that it’s simply not true. It was a conversation with a 28-year old Londoner that prompted this blog post and it was easy to sense her frustration.  We could trot out countless examples of those under 30 who have launched successful tech businesses or who, like Malala, instigated a human rights revolution, but the real issue for many is the belief that the world isn’t open to the efforts of the next generation and it holds us back. Picasso said that, “it takes a very long time to become young.” Know why that is? It’s because who are older wish they were young again, had the energies of youth, or could collaborate with their peers the way the did in earlier years. Yes, there are systems and institutions, prejudices and opinions, but these will yield way to someone with a dream, a vision, who is dedicated to bettering their world. It’s contagious and people have great trouble turning down empowered people.

“All I have is an idea.” Well, that’s plenty. There is so much of what goes on in life and in organizations that reflects the mundane and the same-old, same-old. Often such systems suppress ingenuity, innovation, or new ways to do old things. The great author, Victor Hugo, thought that it was ideas that surpassed everything, or as he wrote, “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come.” But it will never come if we don’t act on those impulses. People aren’t starving for old bromides, but new and exciting perspectives. Entire systems can run on old concepts, but only ideas can change the world.

The list of those things that often hold us back is endless. They are real and, at times, intimidating. But no one can make you lose confidence without your consent. Our world needs to chart new courses for the journey humanity must take in order to solve its biggest and smallest problems. It’s time for all of us to step out and play our part. The world is looking for ingenuity and authenticity, not platitudes and empty words.

Politics Without Inspiration = Fear

a

“PEOPLE GO TO FAR GREATER LENGTHS to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire,” noted one of the characters in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, and our current brand of politics is proving this – over and over again. Manipulative politics understands that, while humans are naturally moved by hope, they are far more motivated by what they are afraid of; it’s been in our DNA from the beginning. They play to it, believing that it’s easier to get people into the voting booth through what they’re afraid of than by what inspires them. And so, in an increasingly dangerous world, political success is deemed to be located in that sweet spot where terror intersects with citizenship.

This dynamic is increasingly playing out in the run-up to the next federal election later this year. The government has a responsibility to protect citizens, but not by driving them to fits of insecurity. And the opposition parties are right to talk about the threats to our privacy through wide-ranging anti-terror legislation, but must do a better job at detailing a more rigorous foreign policy that involves smart investment, international development, and diplomacy.

It used to be, especially in times of deep international insecurity, that politicians sought to enlist us to create a more hopeful world. They achieved this in different ways, but their authority and power to inspire us came from the belief that their citizens could yet move towards what Martin Luther King Jr. called the long arc “that bends towards justice.”

But politicians rarely speak like that anymore, in part because they have found it easier to drive the politics of fear than a democracy of hope. They have become managers of public life rather than visionaries for it. They have preferred contention over collaboration and division of people over dedication to principle. When people are fearful, even if only some of the time, they are easier to bait than when they are full of confidence concerning their future. And so we get played, and, like sheep fearful of a wolf on the perimeter, never realize that our greatest danger always comes from promoters of fear in our midst dressed as our defenders. It is a fantasy through which politicians trade leadership for a kind of invisible enforcement. In any discipline in a turbulent world, those with the darkest fears and highest ambitions often get to practice both in leadership.

Yet author, Marilyn Ferguson, reminds us all that we know that on the other side of every fear is freedom, if we would but work for it. Plato put it differently: “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when adults are afraid of the light.”

Bruce Anderson, a pollster and panel member of CBC television’s popular “At Issue” panel, knows a thing or two about politics and is a gifted diviner of the national mood. In a recent Globe and Mail piece, he hearkened back to recent history, where politicians enjoyed success because they ran campaigns “about aspiration, about the future.” He goes on to add, “There’s a vacuum to be filled. It’s rare to hear leaders talk about dreams, except maybe how to avoid a nightmare.”

Andersen is right, as he is when he says our political conversations can feel more like “what do we need to do” than, “who do we want to be?” But we aren’t there at the moment, are we?

Vincent Van Gogh once boasted, “I dream my painting and I paint my dream.” Will our leaders put aside their broadswords in favour of aspirations that unite a nation instead of dividing it? In the midst of a dangerous world, does the future not belong to those who wish to build it instead of merely protect it?

This imposing and complex planet now confronts us with the greatest challenges in a generation: terrorism, climate change, poverty, financial dysfunction.  It’s full of big lurking things and we require big inspirational leaders who once again remind us that fear itself is, in fact, our greatest enemy.  Fear doesn’t just come from the presence of danger, but the absence of inspiration and a sense of optimism.  Ultimately the task of any politician is to call us out from the collective of fear to that place where whatever we dream and believe we can actually achieve.

 

The Curse of Blind Optimism

optimismRecently our city’s mayor, in giving his annual address, made an interesting request of a large part of London’s population: “Keep your negativity on the sideline … give good news a chance.” This is becoming increasingly difficult to accomplish in a community with frustratingly high unemployment and a deeply divided political council.

Alas, such advice is increasingly received as the plaintive gesture of an ineffective political order. It is all the more remarkable considering the city’s desire to hear from average citizens about the kind of city they want. In a community struggling to find a future one can hardly expect input to be merely roses – especially with a kind of political leadership experiencing difficulty working through its own divisions.

We are slowly coming to the end of the entitled political order – one which historically asked citizens to have confidence in their elites which would result in benefits for all. Given democracy’s recent record, it is growing harder to suspend our disbelief much longer.

Even at the World Economic Forum in Davos,, Switzerland, significant space has had to be created for the concept of civil society and its importance to future of democracy, human rights and prosperity.  Nicholas Davies, Head of Constituents and Strategic Initiatives for the Forum, observed:

The experiences of the last two years have demonstrated that inequality and social and political inclusion are once again powerful drivers of protest, while the mobile revolution has transformed the way citizens interact with business, government and international organizations. Some governments have responded with new mechanism for engaging civil society actors, while others have put in place new restrictions intended to stifle them.

One of those “new restrictions” might very well be the desire to either be positive or stay on the sidelines. And it’s not just political leaders that play this game; increasingly, civil society leaders attempt to promote enthusiasm even as they know well enough that government policies undermine much of what they seek, This “finger in the dike” approach can hardly bring us to a new future for our communities.

A new report was unveiled at Davos titled The Future Role of Civil Society that calls on citizens and groups to be enablers but also to become “constructive challengers” of the prevailing system, “to create social resilience while driving agendas forward, engaging with business and government in ways that enable it to effectively inspire and support innovative change at multiple levels.”

At the foundation of all this desire for change that we hear consistently around the world is the admission that the narrative is not actually being written by citizens and their communities but by massive power structures that tell us to be happy with what we have. We are subtly led to act as though happiness is based upon what we purchase. We are reminded that our communities must now get by with less because of the limitation of resources. Perhaps worst of all, it is expected that we will accept the prevailing wisdom that professional marketeers and financial analysts know the way ahead – as citizens, we just aren’t smart enough.

Really? We have citizens that bring up their children in respect everyday, despite the obstacles. We have small businesses that successfully cast off the failing corporate ethos of the day to benefit their communities, hire workers, and, yes, make a profit in the process. We have an untold number of citizens who volunteer at libraries, social agencies, schools, intersections, and hospitals who never expect a cent. Our communities possess citizens that expend their adult lives caring for the desperate overseas and at home. There are people who life-long learn, who take on new languages, who raise their game in the senior years to enhance their respective communities. Don’t let the experts tell us that they hold exclusive knowledge in how to perform politics, run an economy, or deal with limitations. All of these things mentioned above average citizens undertake each and every day in an on-the-ground fashion that the self-proclaimed experts can never visualize or purchase.

But where is the acknowledgement of this citizen power, this social capital residing in our communities? It runs silent through our neighborhoods and remains hidden behind official agendas. You can’t buy it or elect it – it just is and forms the nexus of all that is yet to come in community development. But at present it strains to escape the bonds of exile. It cringes when informed it should play the game or remain silent on the sidelines.

A new life is emerging in our communities, our countries. It strikes the note of common cause, common policy, a common calling. It is slowly gaining traction in places like Davos or Newark, New Jersey, but has yet to break through the bubble created by experts and professionals.

The new reality is neither blind nor naive. It is wise in the ways of living even if it doesn’t comprehend everything about the Consumer Price Index or political marketing. It is tired of being told to stay positive when our biggest challenges remain unaddressed and grows increasingly resentful of being patronized by elitists. We require neither politicians telling us to behave or civil society leaders asking that we be optimistic. We need to challenge the systems as they are and stop hiding behind positive euphemisms. Enough with the platitudes already.

%d bloggers like this: