The turn of the year can precipitate a curious compound of hope and despair. We look back at the year gone by and review the events of our own lives, as well as those of our family and friends, and the wider world. We might ask ourselves whether it has been a good year – for us, for our friends and family. We might ask whether the world got a little bit better during 2017. We might wonder whether it got a little bit worse. Are there reasonable grounds for hope that we are always moving to a better, fairer, kinder global human community? Or, is there more persuasive evidence that human-kind is becoming a more confused, desperate and disparate family.
How would we measure out a response to such a question? It might be that it comes down to our own individual temperament and outlook: how we choose to see the world. As one thinker remarked: “There is no such thing as a view from nowhere”. In other words, we all view the facts and events of our lives, the happenings in the world, though our own individual lenses. It may be that those who see reasonable grounds for hope are, temperamentally, more hopeful, more optimistic people. And those who see reasonable grounds for despair are inclined to see the world from a gloomier, pessimistic – they might say realistic – perspective. The old half-full, half-empty binary.
Hope, allegedly, springs eternal. (As an Arsenal Fan I can testify to this). This observation may say something about human beings; it may provide an answer to the question of whether it is better to live life in hope and feel oft-let-down; or whether a shrewder tactic is to reconcile oneself to disappointment and then be pleasantly surprised when things turn out well.
To my mind, it is not just desirable, but actually our duty, to live in hope. Hope is not a matter of outlook – a kind of wistful, fingers-crossed, ignore-the-bad-bits dreamland. Hope faces the hard realities of life and tries to address them. Hope is not wishful-thinking: it is a call to action.
But, how would a hopeful person answer this question: is the world a better place at the end of 2017 than it was at the start? We might start by citing all the many very real horrors, tragedies, brutalities, disappointments, disasters and apparently chaotic turns of events. We would soon find that we have stacked up a powerful body of evidence to suggest that 2017 was a bad year, maybe even a mad year. And all this evidence might justifiably lend weight to the view that human civilisation is going in the wrong direction.
I can see that. I would not try for one second to downplay the depth and breadth of suffering – some of it born of random chance, much of it carried out through human agency. However, perhaps because I am a hopeful soul, I find myself looking back to the many good things that occurred in the last 12 months. I find myself thinking of the countless kind and noble acts carried out by human beings; acts of compassion, generosity, friendship. The daily good news stories that don’t often dominate, or even penetrate, the news media. These acts were born of the same human free will that also proved capable of wickedness and depravity.
But, is my optimistic view justified? What evidence is there that the world got a bit better last year? Well, my mum, who is also an optimist, shared with me a list, published by Future Crunch, of 99 global reasons to celebrate progress in 2017.
They include the following:
– In 2017, the hole in the ozone layer shrunk to its smallest size since 1988
– The World Health Organisation unveiled a new vaccine that’s cheap and effective enough to end cholera, one of humanity’s greatest ever killers.
– In the United States’, the official poverty rate reached 12.7%, the lowest level since the end of the global financial crisis.
– On International Women’s Day 2017, Iceland became the first country in the world to make equal pay compulsory by law.
– Women now occupy 23% of parliamentary seats around the world, up from 12% in 1997.
There 93 other reasons to be cheerful in this list. The 99 positive facts suggest progress – or at least the gradual putting right of wrongs. Many are, of course, the flip side of deep and long-running negatives – they show progress towards – rather than arrival at – a worthy and ideal destination. A destination at which each living being, and indeed the planet itself, is treated with respect and given the opportunity to thrive. Behind these facts, and alongside the reality of the very many negative events of the past 12 months, there is the hard truth to face: that the world remains an intensely divided, brutal, imbalanced and unfair place.
We can face this fact with despair; we can ignore this fact and immerse ourselves in comfortable self-interest; or we can pledge to do our bit, in hope.
There are, I believe, (and hoping not to sound trite), reasons to be cheerful. Easy to say, perhaps, in our comfy corner of the world. However, I would still like to believe that the turn of the year is a moment of profound hope and opportunity. And, a time at which we can remind ourselves of a daily call to action. That is, a call to action, born of hope, that we can, in our individual lives and in our daily actions, make the world a better place.