On Optimism

A message from Headmaster Michael Parker.

I recently spoke to Newington boys about reasons to be optimistic about the world. I used the book Factfulness by Hans Rosling as the basis of my material. It poses a number of interesting questions … with even more interesting answers.  

It is easy for young men to be pessimistic about the way things are and will be, which in turn can lead to depression and mental health issues. The news and current affairs cycle can look pretty bad. There are some genuine long-term issues such as climate change that boys have every right to be concerned about. The strictures of school can conflict with an adolescent desire for independence, leading in some cases to cynicism. Social media doesn’t help.  

But there is plenty to celebrate about the modern world. If we got a choice would we really choose to live in any other time? If we did, the chances are we would end up a serf or a slave leading a life that was, as philosopher Thomas Hobbes said, nasty, brutish and short. Even if we got lucky enough to become a nobleperson, we would have to put up with tooth decay, body odour, disease and a diet that couldn’t even start to match what we can pick up in the fresh food aisle at Woolies. We need to remind our young people, who have only lived a fraction of our lives, how good things are and of the many reasons for optimism in their lives as they head into the 21st century.  

The insights provided in Factfulness are pretty powerful. Child labour, world hunger and plane crash deaths have all decreased (as well as many other terrible things). Immunisation, electricity, water purity and movie production have all increased (as well as many other good things). It’s not a complete picture of our world, but it’s a pretty exciting one.  

The optimist in me hopes our boys went home bursting to talk about how they heard that the world they are heading into is a fantastic place. The realist in me knows almost all their parents will have had to raise the subject with them. However, together at school and at home, we can help give our boys a world view that gives them plenty of reason to look forward to the rest of their lives.