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pov | the perils of optimism

Musqueam Territory

Jan 2018

I used to be a very optimistic person. Very rose coloured glasses. I remember being a teen and asking one of my aunties about what it's like to get older and what changes the most. She said something that has always stuck with me: "I'm not as optimistic as I used to be." It was hard for me to imagine that at the time but I understand what she means now.

Optimism doesn't get you very far with systems that are severely unjust and based on values of profit over people. Optimism doesn't help in the face of systemic racism experienced by large populations all around the world, including here in Canada. Sure, an optimistic attitude has helped me at times, particularly in my day-to-day interactions, kind of like a superficial magnetism that people want to be around. But optimism hasn't helped me when I hear about injustices experienced by family members. Or when I see that Trudeau decides to take a family vacation on the first ever National Truth & Reconciliation Day. Or when I hear the news of the coroner's report that confirms that Joyce Echaquan died because she's Indigenous.

I'm reminded of something I read about an American who was held captive for seven years as a prisoner of war. He was tortured, spent four years in solitary confinement and had his feet shackled in leg-irons for two years. The reason we know of this story is because he persevered and was eventually freed, coming out of it stronger than ever.

Here's an excerpt from an interview where he was asked who it was who didn't make it out of those circumstances:

“Oh, it’s easy. I can tell you who didn’t make it out. It was the optimists.”

He said, “The optimists. Yes. They were the ones who always said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ Christmas would come and it would go. And there would be another Christmas. And they died of a broken heart.”

Then he grabbed me by the shoulders and he said, “This is what I learned from those years in the prison camp, where all those constraints just were oppressive. You must never ever ever confuse, on the one hand, the need for absolute, unwavering faith that you can prevail despite those constraints with, on the other hand, the need for the discipline to begin by confronting the brutal facts, whatever they are. We’re not getting out of here by Christmas.”

Yes. I resonate with that. We must have faith that things can change while maintaining a gaze on what is going on and the real tangible steps that are needed to move forward.

I have absolute faith that we can move out of these times that we're in. I have faith that we will confront the racist systems that we are all immersed in and I have faith that we will find a way to support one another, whether that's by dismantling the existing systems or perhaps it's something we haven't thought of yet. I have faith that the earth, our Mother, will be ok and I have faith that we will make changes to take care of her better, and in turn, take care of ourselves better. I have faith that there are more people who care than don't care and I have faith that we can work together and that there are enough of us willing to put in the work.

My faith feels like the most real intangible thing about me, of seeing and believing possibilities beyond the evidence that would indicate otherwise. My faith fuels my work, wakes me up everyday, helps me persevere through challenges. My faith keeps me strong. I want to work with people who feel this, believe this, and integrate this into their own way of doing things.

Faith is not blind, it's balanced. I have no use for optimism.


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