A few days ago, my mother confirmed my status as a life-long optimist when she told me that, as a toddler, my standard response to the question “How are you, Mary Alice?” was always an enthusiastic, “I’m too too happy!”
For those who know me, this probably does not come as any big surprise. I firmly believe that joy comes out of sorrow and that this perspective is a choice. Yet I think that, at times, my optimism has the tendency to be interpreted as naivete or downright Pollyanna-ish.
And I understand why.
In a world where so much pain, suffering, injustice, violence, and hatred occurs on a daily basis, it is incredibly difficult to maintain any kind of optimism or hope that anything can change. My optimism doesn’t deny or ignore all of this, instead every day, I make the choice to actively seek out and acknowledge the many reasons to feel hopeful about the possibility of change.
This week I read Jorie Ella’s piece “Let’s Keep it Real: The ALS Bucket Challenge is an Embarrassment” and then I read Amy Phillips’ “I Don’t Care if You Think it’s a Gimmick: Please, Please Keep Dumping Ice on Your Heads” — and I felt hopeful.
Whether the challenge is deemed useless or useful is a matter of perspective, but the one thing that has become clear is that the Ice Bucket Challenge is inspiring strong reactions and pushing people to engage in discussions that extend far beyond ALS.
People like my beautiful friend, Courtney, whose strong, brilliant father has been stolen from her by this horrible disease, have said, “It makes me feel like the world is behind me!”
And maybe that’s enough to make it worthwhile.
Other people have opposed the challenge because they view it as a shameful waste of water, ALS as a disease that disproportionally affects middle-aged white males, and the social media frenzy surrounding the challenge as a colossal waste of time and is distracting people from the real issues like the war in Gaza, the outbreak of Ebola in Africa, racial and socio-economic injustice in Ferguson, the militarization of police forces in the US, the failure of the US educational system, and countless other issues that deserve attention. People are being criticized for dumping buckets of water on themselves before donating to ALS research, but those who oppose this waste of water have extended the discussion to include the global need for clean drinking water and conservation efforts, whlie others have found creative ways to participate in the challenge without wasting water.
But here’s the thing…
Everywhere I look, people are engaging in conversations! Conversations that include links to alternate perspectives, and questioning of ideologies. Conversations that involve voices from around the globe. Conversations that often become heated, but attempt to maintain (for the most part) a certain level of respect.
It’s not that I think people should avoid disagreements or that they shouldn’t express their outrage over the ongoing violence and injustice; it’s just that I don’t see how problems are ever going to be solved unless people feel like they’re being heard. And my experience in classrooms has taught me that once people feel like they matter – like their voice is being heard – anything is possible.
It’s this possibility, and the small, every-day miracles, that propel me forward and keep my optimism alive.
And if my optimism is what makes a difference to even one person, then “I’m too too happy” to be one of the millions who continue to strive to be a small part of the change they want to see in the world.