Howard Zinn: Realistic Optimism

THOUGHTFUL OPTIMISM THAT DOESN’T IGNORE THE SUFFERING

One of my heroes, radical historian Howard Zinn, said that pessimism tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we relentlessly imagine the worst possible outcomes, if we concentrate on all the things that are falling apart and going wrong, it cripples our capacity to make constructive changes. “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic,” he wrote. “It gives us the energy to act.”

More from Howard: “What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

“And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of Presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

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