Words by: Lachlan McKay Art by: Qianjia (Fiona) Lin
It’s hard picturing how the world could get any better. Everywhere we look on the news, on our phones, or out on the street, things seem horrible. As young people, we feel more and more hopeless in the face of the daunting challenges that lie ahead.
As a deep and frigid winter sets in, economic disparity is sharp. Cold mornings siphon off our optimism that the day is going to be a good one. We live in a time of great economic inequality, where the Aussie dream of owning your own home is only really an option for those lucky enough to cash a cheque with the bank of inherited wealth — and this is only part of the problem that younger people face today. The near impossible challenge of climate change, set to totally change the way that humanity exists on Earth, eats away at my mind. It feeds my worries that the world I grow old in, and the world that I hope to have children in, will be worse than the world that my folks grew up in. More disturbingly, the institutions that are supposed to solve these problems seem more interested in political point-scoring than helping, or are too busy trying to control the choices that their citizens make about their own lives.
It’s pretty damn hard trying to picture a perfect world right about now.
But what else can I do? I could skip around, pretend I don’t know any better. Sink into a warm bath of bliss to soothe my weary bones — weary from holding me upright against daily headwinds. Pretend that everything will be fine even when I know it won’t be.
Or I could listen to the cynical know-it-alls who are telling people that things are too far gone for anything to be done about it. That there’s nothing more that your sweet but silly attempts to change the world can do. And in turn, I could try to tear down any other attempt to make a change in the world, lest the success of others remind me of my own dismal failings. That’s the worst of the two options: becoming a black hole of cynicism, sucking in any bright light of optimism in my orbit.
Those choices don’t sound all that appealing. I wouldn’t like the person who chooses to give up on any possibility of change. Where would it leave the things that I care about? How could I look at myself in the mirror knowing that I could make a difference but chose not to?
And so, I’m left in the impossible position of having to remain hopeful in a situation that often feels hopeless. But as renowned activist for prison abolition, Mariame Kaba, said in an interview last year, “hope is a discipline”. Hope isn’t about how you feel, but more about “the practice of deciding every day that you’re still gonna put one foot in front of the other, that you’re still going to get up in the morning”. This belief is where I find comfort when I read the news or go on Twitter and sink into the bottomless pessimism. It’s that it isn’t naive or wrong to have hope, that we might even make things better. It’s a discipline that can be sharpened and honed, like a sword you’d take into every political battle in the face of overwhelming odds.
Except hope isn’t the only ingredient necessary to survive in today’s harsh political climate — it needs to be coupled with the radical idea that most people are actually really decent. Author and historian Rutger Bregman writes, “it’s time for a new realism… a new look at humankind”. Bregman’s new realism is premised on the fact that all people share key commonalities, that every person is looking for the same fundamental things for themselves and those they care about.
In my opinion, these shared hopes are for security and a worthwhile future. Having security is being safe from harm; having enough food, water and shelter, and living in relative peace. Such a thing might seem trivial to the well-off, but even in the developed world not everyone knows where they’ll sleep in the upcoming winter storms. A worthwhile future is one that has promise, where social mobility is possible, having a family is a widely accessible choice, and self-fulfilment is in every way achievable. Importantly, a worthwhile future is up to an individual to determine for themselves, not something imposed upon them by the state or anyone else. Fundamental to both security and a worthwhile future is that each of these concepts relies on those with disciplined hope, working tirelessly to achieve them.
So, what does my perfect world look like? My perfect world is one where the discipline of hope thrives every day. One where everyone can enjoy the freedom to make choices about their own futures. One where the challenges of tomorrow aren’t seen as utterly overwhelming. One where we can each have a kinder view of what humanity could achieve, that each of us deserves to have our needs met. It’s in this kind of world where the challenges we face aren’t seen as apocalyptic or immovable, but only the temporary obstacles on the road towards a better world.