I've said here that I'm a skeptic and that I try to avoid cynical impulses because a cynic rarely acts as she see little or no possibility of The Good winning. Her 'the-game-is-fixed' lens on life calcifies her mind and her heart. The skeptic's belief that Good/Evil are equally likely to hold the day (if not the arc of history) moves her to act and, more often than not, to win.
Skepticism has an important corollary.
A skeptic is far more likely than a cynic to understand this truth:
action precedes happiness.
People often think that they'll be able to act, to do the right thing, to progress in their lives, to help others move forward, if they wait to act until they feel better than they now do.
The truth is that acting for Good makes us feel well. That's why the toddler who figures out a way to put on his jacket or, later on, to tie his shoes, often becomes next-to-ecstatic at his accomplishment even before his parents reinforce his action with praise. And then he tries to accomplish something new.
We must act right to feel right.
Waiting to feel good before we act means eons; acting right moves us toward feeling good swiftly.
Now comes, from science writer Jane Brody, some evidence that what I believe (and encourage us all to believe and act on) is so. In the New York Times, Ms. Brody, speaking of optimism (which, I'd argue is a basis for a life of healthy skepticism), reports on studies of optimists and pessimists (as shown through psychological testing).
Ms. Brody reports that "adults shown to be pessimists...had higher death rates over a 30-year period that those shown to be optimistic." She reviews a book by University of Kentucky psychology professor, Suzanne C. Segerstrom. In short, Professor Segestrom argues that "optimism is not about being positive so much as it is being motivated and persistent."
While I encourage you to read Ms. Brody's piece in full (link below), I'll leave you today with some brief words from Dr. Segerstrom.
- "...when faced with uncontrollable stressors, optimists tend to react by building 'existential resources' -- for example by looking for something good to come out of the situation or using the event...."
- "...with the right guidance optimism can be learned by adults" despite our personal histories biological predispositions.
The first step is, as I said above, to act as if what you do will make a positive difference in your and others' lives. Dr. Segestrom calls this 'Fake It 'Til You Make It'. Makes sense to me. I could not imagine doing even the little that I do in social justice writing/activism if I did not act as if it mattered.