Friday, November 12, 2010
How do you stay optimistic in light of reality?
My son was teasing me recently about the “tough job” of having to have an opinion on everything.
I admit, grumbling about the stresses of having a weekly platform in the Island’s largest daily newspaper for whatever you feel like going on about must come across as just a bit precious for all the writers and ranters out there who would jump at the opportunity.
But the truth is, having an opinion all the time does take its toll. It requires you to stay informed - and that turns out to be an incredibly discouraging process.
I place great value on having informed opinions, and on changing my mind if new information comes available. Think of me what you will as a columnist, but I’d hope that even the people who can’t stand what I write would at least agree I check into things before weighing in with an opinion.
It’s that checking-in that beats you down. You start to see the unmistakable pattern in how we humans operate, which all too often involves “fixing” specific problems only to neglect them back to life again a few years later. I mean, we’ve made an art form out of reinventing the wheel.
And once you know, there’s no “unknowing” - you see everything differently from that point on. You see the limits on the starry-eyed dreams of those who don’t yet know how things tend to work out. I don’t want to be rolling my eyes at someone’s big new vision for tackling the stubborn problems of our world, but it’s hard not to when you’re acutely aware of how often our enthusiastic plans go awry and our attention strays.
Getting informed has a lot of sleuthing in it. You’re lifting up the rocks to learn why things are happening a particular way. You’re asking questions, reading reports, looking at public records.
I love the process, and that being a journalist leads me to the people who can answer my questions. (Whether they will or not is another question, mind you.) I love this amazing age of accessible information. I love the chance to understand.
But what I’ve come to understand the most from all that paying attention is that we’re people of grand vision with fairly hopeless long-term commitment for seeing things through. We build up and tear down on all kinds of front, wasting heartbreaking amounts of time and energy on things that we soon forget we ever cared about.
My biggest fear is that all this knowing is making me bitter and cynical. I don’t want to be the type of person who pours cold water on every hopeful suggestion. I don’t want to be the Eeyore in the room.
I fear I’m already becoming one of those wet blankets at a party who is always bringing people down with their alarmed anecdotes and unpleasant statistics.
I can take a perfectly amusing little conversation and turn it into a deep and slightly uncomfortable talk about a pressing social concern in under a minute, even when I’m trying to keep things light. I’m sure people can spot the flaming colours of my outraged aura from across the room these days, and who could blame them for quietly hoping I wasn’t coming their way?
The other day, I heard myself making crabby comments about a shiny new family centre for autism being planned for Vancouver (more on that later). What an odd position to be in.
Then I startled a sales clerk at a local store with my passionate refusal to sign an anti-trafficking petition until I knew more about the campaign. I saw in her eyes that I could very quickly become a real drag to be around.
On balance, I guess I wouldn’t have it any other way. The world just doesn’t need another uninformed opinion. But should you and I find ourselves in the same room one day, I’ll understand if you avoid me. There are days when I wish I could do the same.
Farewell to the late Bob Wise, whose own informed opinions around sex work made the Victoria artist and agent provocateur a favourite of mine in my years at PEERS Victoria.
He could have just stayed angry about having the prostitution stroll on his doorstep at Rock Bay. But instead he got to know the sex workers, and found clever ways to raise their issues in his artwork. I’ll miss you, Bob.