an ultimate optimism.

19 Aug

As I was walking with a friend, he started talking about how he didn’t understand optimists at all. “How can optimists get out of bed when, day after day, they can see how things are falling apart around us? How can they see their good ideas and hopes fail again and again and not succumb to despair?”

He was surprised when I shared that I am an optimist. “You seem too realistic and pragmatic to be an optimist!” Thanks, I guess.

But I continued: My optimism isn’t focused on the short-term but on the long term. As a whole, I feel like I am improving as a person, that my family is improving as a unit, that my community is becoming more compassionate and that humanity is becoming smarter, stronger, more resilient, more authentic, more loving, more just, and so-on. Slowly, perhaps, but we are on our way to something better.

And, I said, as we are on our way to something better, we will fail – that is a given. But that doesn’t mean that the entire endeavor is a failure. Indeed, often times the best stuff comes out of what, at first, appears to be a failure.

I am inspired by the wisdom tale (either Zen or Taoist, I am not sure which) of the farmer. In this story, a farmer’s horse runs away, which seems like bad luck. Maybe, the farmer says. But then the horse returns and brings back another horse (or two) with it, which seems like good luck. Maybe, the farmer says. But then the wild horse injures the farmer’s son (bad luck, maybe) which causes him to miss the draft (good luck, maybe)…you get the picture.

Theologian James Luther Adams once wrote that “liberalism holds that the resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.”  My optimism is grounded in my liberal faith.  It is not dependent on everything working out the way I think it should in the present moment. Instead, it tells me that we cannot know in the short term whether something is good luck or bad luck, but in the long run things will, somehow, eventually, work out for the good.

As Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker wrote in 1853:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.

If one’s optimism is dependent on things working out in the short term, despair can (and does) easily set in. However, if one has an attitude of a more ultimate optimism, one need only look at the larger picture for affirmation.

Was it good luck that I developed this ultimate optimism?  Was it bad luck?  Maybe. It’s hard to say. But I’ll take it.

4 Responses to “an ultimate optimism.”

  1. Kathy Rogers August 19, 2015 at 6:01 pm #

    A different song from a different generation. Not my favorite music genre but it seems to fit. https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAAKPJEq1Ew

    • Rev. Dawn August 19, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

      These guys do not seem very optimistic to me! Now I am all depressed. JK!! 🙂

  2. Judy Welles August 20, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    Dawn, this is wonderful. You’re so good at articulating how I feel! Have you posted a link to this on the UU Ministers Optimists FB page?

    • Rev. Dawn August 20, 2015 at 5:18 pm #

      Aww, thanks! I had no idea there even is such a facebook group! Please feel free to post it there!

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