Long-term Pessimist, Short-term Optimist

I heard a guest on one of the podcasts I listen to describe himself as someone who is pessimistic in the long-term, but very optimistic for the short-term. He said this in a light-hearted, humorous manner, but it has resonated with me ever since. This is precisely how I would describe myself. I may fully believe that in just a few decades, the earth will collapse from underneath us due to our selfishness and our negligence. However, that doesn’t have to take away from the beauty and meaning still left to be found in the months and years we have before us.

It can be hard to hold these two perspectives in my mind at once, but I’ve been practicing it for a few years now and it’s gotten easier. At first, I only felt cheated and victimized by the current state of the world. Now I see that instead I should be immensely grateful for the life I have been given regardless of the length or the way it ultimately ends. It’s a bizarre frame of mind to be sure, but I am capable of being thankful for where I am and what I have even as everything around me slowly crumbles. I’ve heard before that death is a gift because it forces us to more fully appreciate life. And to a certain extend I view the impending climate crisis in the same way. It has made each small moment that much more poignant and precious to me.

I may not know how long I have left, but I do know that I have been blessed with the most amazing people to share this life with until then. In twenty or more years, the earth may be decimated, but in a few months, I’ll be in the arms of the man I love. I’ve managed to find someone to share my remaining years with, someone who understands and respects my beliefs and opinions. Someone that acknowledges the threats we face as a species, and as a planet. Someone that can hold my hand through it all and face it with me when that day comes. I have a job I love to go to everyday with people that mean so much to me, that help me grow, and that allow me to do something meaningful. I have a family and friends that love and understand me even when I don’t always understand myself. I have three soft fur children that adore me and depend on me, that bless me with indescribable tenderness and warmth each and every day.

In ten years I may not have access to clean water or food, but right now I have everything I could ask for and more. Each week I get to go collect a fresh, vibrant bounty from the store to nourish me and keep me healthy. In a few weeks my entire country will celebrate that bounty and the company of those most precious to us as we brace ourselves for the cold months ahead. I reflect on this miracle each day as I prepare my colorful collection of fruits and vegetables and turn them into delicious meals.

I have a home. I am loved. I love. When I am thirsty, I may always drink. When I’m hungry, I may always eat. Each night I lay my head down in my soft, warm bed surrounded by my sweet babies. Soon that bed will even contain my loving partner. I have heat in the winter and cool air in the summer. I have electricity and running water. I have clothing that keeps me protected from the elements and allows me to express myself to those around me. I have a community to teach me patience and teamwork. I have a stable foundation laid beneath me from all the those that came before to ensure that future generations would have plumbing, highways, public services, and a power grid.

Despite the downfalls of the modern age, never before in history has life been so easy and filled with pleasure. When life has given you so many incredible gifts, it isn’t fair to complain when they eventually run out. Someday I may suffer, but the fact that I have never truly suffered in 28 years of life is unbelievable. And I am so grateful for all of these blissful years I have been given, and I am overjoyed to likely still have quite a few left ahead of me. The future may ultimately hold fear, pain, suffering, and uncertainty, but that future will not be here tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And for that I am also grateful.

1,048 Pessimism Illustrations & Clip Art - iStock

Acknowledging Our Privilege

Entitlement and privilege have become popular terms in the last few years. It’s not surprising to me that the disenfranchised among us have finally begun to have their voices heard in this regard. What’s more surprising is the backlash that it has resulted in. Straight, white, men are furious to be called privileged. But why? Would it make you mad if someone called you fortunate? Rich? Well-educated? Privilege is something to be grateful for. It’s not an insult, just an observation. Something that only needs to be recognized and acknowledged, so that we can work together to even the playing field. I don’t know why it is so difficult for so many people to admit that there are many who are worse off.

I think that people are misinterpreting the meaning of the word privilege. Just because you’re at the top of the social hierarchy doesn’t mean that you don’t have any problems or difficulties in your life. It doesn’t mean every moment of your existence has been easy. It just means that despite the problems you have, there are a lot of people who have a different set of problems that are based on their gender, race, ethnicity, etc. Problems that they cannot resolve or avoid. All these people are asking for right now is for the world to see their struggles. Is that really too much to ask?

Apparently it is. One of the ironic things about discussions like these is the privileged side’s refusal to even for a moment put their own thoughts and feelings aside in order to pay attention to the needs and concerns of others. Refusing to see others’ perspectives is it’s own form of privilege.

Even though I am a woman, I am still well-educated, middle class, and white. I fully own that despite my gender, I am extremely privileged and catch myself acting entitled all the time. Maybe it’s just because I’ve always had self-deprecation in my blood, but it’s never been an issue for me to acknowledge that. I have no problem admitting that I haven’t “earned” most of the comforts I enjoy every day. I’m not any better than someone who lives on government assistance, works at a minimum wage job, is unemployed, addicted to drugs, or even a criminal. Luck and random chance are the only things that separate us. It doesn’t harm me or my ego to say that. In fact, I believe it benefits me to consider my life from the perspective of those less fortunate. People that go through life with a sense of superiority and entitlement are not generally the happiest people. When you move through the world as if you are owed certain things, you are asking to be aggravated and disappointed.

I was considering my own unconscious sense of entitlement as I drove to work this morning. I have a tendency to get pretty irritated while driving. Why can’t these people drive?! Why are they all in my way!? It seems like every other car on the highway is merely there to inconvenience me. When I stop and reflect of that self-righteous anger though, I want to laugh. This world is not only for me. Why do I choose to focus on the things that bother me instead of focusing on what a sheer miracle it is that I have a highway to drive on at all? I allow myself to get so fed up with society to the point that I often hate humanity all together. Yet I forget to acknowledge how awful my life would be without the foundation our ancestors have established. I should be honored to call myself a human being, not angry and ashamed. Sure humans aren’t perfect, but we’ve done some incredible things and I’m happy that I get to benefit from the hard work of all those before me.

I wish that those who feel insulted by being called privileged or entitled would instead feel grateful that they have it so good. The problems of the world are not solely on your shoulders just because you were born white, just as the terrible conditions faced by minorities are not their fault for not being white. The conversation has somehow become about blame, when it should be about finding solutions. I think another misconception is about what these solutions will look like. No one wants to strip the privileged of their health and happiness. We merely want to raise the rest of the world up to where they are, and stop blaming those in need and writing them off as deserving of the lot they’ve gotten in life.

Juggling Gratitude and Fear

Lately I keep coming back to the realization that a lot of the luxuries I take for granted every day will soon be unavailable to me. Fresh produce from the store, peaceful morning drives to work, running water, hot showers, internet access, electricity, coffee, a healthy, pain-free body. Most of us have lots of precious moments like these every day that we don’t pay much attention to. Even if you don’t believe that the world is headed for catastrophe like me, it is still a shame that we don’t take the time to be grateful for the small moments of joy in our lives.

My issue is not so much that I don’t realize I need to be grateful for these things, it’s rather that it’s hard for me to avoid the fear that comes along with realizing that they are in fact luxuries I may not always have. My heart swells with panic instead of gratitude when I acknowledge that in a few short years I may be going to sleep hungry. I may be fighting just to stay alive, to keep my loved ones alive and safe. My mind tends to fixate on the negative, preventing me from enjoying where I am and what I have right now.

I don’t quite know how to reconcile the two sides of this coin. How can I remind myself that I am so privileged without dwelling on the fearful vision I have of the future without these comforts? As soon as I try to feel gratitude for the little things, I feel terror and dread instead. But I don’t want to continue sleepwalking through these “mundane” moments either. It is a constant struggle to try to balance the simple pleasures of my day to day life now with the nightmarish future to come. I’m afraid that my efforts to be more mindful are only resulting in me practicing fear and anxiety instead.

I am genuinely at a loss as how to address this issue. I’m not sure if trying to hold this in my awareness is actually worse for my mental health than continuing to take my many blessings for granted. It’s hard to feel grateful that you are not in physical or emotional pain without also contemplating the day that pain will come. If anyone else has experienced this dilemma, I would love to know your thoughts. Is there anything you have found helpful in handling these contradictory emotions? I would greatly appreciate any advice offered.

Welcome To The Post-Apocalypse: A Open Letter From The Martyrs of The New  World | Geek and Sundry