Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

In defence of optimism

We all like to assume that time is made up of three parts. There’s the past, the present and the future. Just like the ghosts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, they are all clearly connected, yet somehow wildly different from each other. In a way though, we live in all three. Not literally of course, given that no one possesses a time machine, but a world in which no one reflected on the past or prepared for the future would be a disaster. Our relationships to the past, present and future all need to be considered carefully.

I think this is why lockdown has been hard on so many people. For me, summer was the worst part of the pandemic. The present was boring, monotonous, repetitive. The future seemed so uncertain, so unpredictable. Yet my mind had to think about something. My mind always has to think about something. This meant I was, in a strange way, living in the past. So little was happening in front of me, and I felt I could not plan for such an uncertain future, which meant the only thing I could do was think about that which had already happened.

You can’t undo the past. It happened. It’s over

Thinking about the past is not inherently bad, and without it, we couldn’t develop ourselves. However, you can’t undo the past. It happened. It’s over. You can think about it all day, but you can’t change it or do anything. The danger is if you stay there for too long, you start to overthink things, doubt yourself and question everything. Eventually, you find yourself drowning in regret, replaying every tiny error you ever made in your head. It only leads to unhelpful questions. Did I say the right thing? Could I have handled that differently? Do people really like me?

It’s not healthy to focus too heavily on any of the three periods. The future, for example, might make us aspire for a better world, but if we never considered the past, we’d just keep making the same mistakes. Living in the moment can make us happy as we don’t have to fret over regrets or uncertainties, but we can’t act carelessly all the time.

We should remain cautious, but we can now feel rather optimistic again

Nearly a year after the first lockdown began though, things are beginning to look a little better. Of course, we’re still months away from the end of restrictions, and to start ignoring them now would be ridiculously irresponsible. However, more and more people are getting the vaccines, cases are down, and we’ve got a far better idea when we might be able to meet friends again.

I am not suggesting that we should forget about those we have lost or about all the suffering that has occurred. As a politics student, I don’t think it is wise to stop holding our leaders accountable either. Yet, for the first time in what feels like an eternity, we have a reasonable idea of what the next few months might look like.

We should remain cautious, but we can now feel rather optimistic again. Finally, we can start to make some plans again. Particularly when away from my friends, it felt like every moment presented me with a dilemma. Should I focus on what is happening, or rather isn’t, or do I focus on the past?

The future will not be perfect. It never will be, but we can start to enjoy the world as it is

Now, we can be a little more positive about the future. I don’t have to worry about past events, because I can look forward to enjoyable new experiences. I can think about how I’ll make the most of every day and make up for all the days lost to lockdown. As I wrote back in 2020: “we’ve lost out on what could have been brilliant days, yet our best ones could still be ahead of us”.

I stand by those words. After months of pain, anger, and everything else in between, we can once again start to feel optimistic. The future will not be perfect. It never will be, but we can start to enjoy the world as it is, and not spend every second worrying about things we can’t change or can’t currently do. We’ve no need for a TARDIS or a DeLorean now. We seem to have got our futures back. Here’s to what’s to come.

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