US historian and activist Howard Zinn said that having faith in the future when the present weighs you down is not "foolishly romantic". It's a self-defense mechanism that allows us to react, knowing that history is not just an endless series of cruel acts. History is also composed of stories of compassion, sacrifice, bravery and kindness. Remaining optimistic this year has been as arduous as it has been imperative. With Brexit, the refugee crisis, the growing threat of extreme right-wing politics, the war in Syria, numerous terrorist attacks, and many more nonsensical and depressing events, we have started to believe that we are all living in an absurd, foolhardy and tasteless theatre piece. But we haven't stopped believing that things can eventually get better. If we were to lose all hope, we would be entirely unable to act.
A few days before leaping into 2017, let us take a look at the year that has passed. Before ceding to the almost uncontrollable knee-jerk reaction of proclaiming what a "shit year" 2016 was, let's derive some wisdom from these quotes, without minimising or disregarding the obvious issues we face, but rather by adding some poetry to our seemingly bleak reality. Maybe we should remember that: "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 marvellous victory.”
At least, that is what Zinn believed.
Here are some gems of optimistism that could easily be printed on little sugar packets or even framed as motivational posters.
"Dance first, think later. It's the natural order." (Samuel Beckett)
Our ghosts from the past, the present and the future can be exorcised through one simple method: dancing. It is said that those who can dance together, can also live together. How about a dance floor shared between Brexiteers and Remainers?
"You don't hate Mondays. You hate capitalism." (Anonymous)
We all have problems. Some are serious and others are ridiculous. Some appear from nowhere, others we create ourselves, and the rest are thrust upon us. Before judging our neighbours, it's wise to recognise that on many occasions, the root of the conflict may have been created by ourselves.
No Europe, refugees are not the root of all your problems.
"Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing." (Oscar Wilde)
Do the banks really know the worth of a house whose tenants are about to be evicted? And, does the government know the true value of making higher education available to everyone?
"The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence." (Charles Bukowski)
This one needs no explanation...
"Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky." (Ojibwa proverb)
In a society that defends slow food, slow journalism and, in a more general sense, a slower pace of life, we have to remember that when faced with uncertainty, the most important thing to do is persist. Stay on track and see what comes of it.
"You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star." (Nietzsche)
The EU is not experiencing its finest moments. It is plagued by so much internal conflict that many are predicting the worst. However, what if behind all of this uncertainty, lies a brilliant project?
"Let us read and let us dance. These two amusements will never do any harm to the world." (Voltaire)
Nothing and no-one should stop us doing these important things in life, such as reading, dancing, listening when people speak to you, eating well, and telling people how much you love them. Equally, we should still protest against injustice, help people in need, exercise our right to vote, and say 'no' to unpaid labour.
"A smile costs less than electricity and gives more light" (Scottish proverb)
It would also help us fight climate change and avoid conflict over water, land and migration. And, why not? Smiling helps us be happier and stops us overreacting to things.
"There is no-one too poor to give, and no-one too rich to receive."
Just a little reminder during this Christmas period.
And for 2017.
And for every day for the rest of our lives.
"If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope." (Noam Chomsky)