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Keeping Optimism From Going Extinct

Keeping Optimism From Going Extinct

Positivity can be a choice for some people. If you can, choose it.

Almost every time I turn on my phone, I prepare myself for the worst.

The latest notification greets me like an eager puppy ready to bark: "Trump did THIS" or "Trump rolled back THAT" or "Trump hit yet another road marker on the long, dark path towards authoritarianism" or "the Supreme Court will soon be entirely Sith." A pop onto Twitter shows me the latest actor accused of sexual assault. On Facebook, I see the new memes regarding the the latest human rights injustice. I like and share the ones I agree with, while leaving critical and condemning comments on those shared by problematic conservative friends, hoping against hope they are simply one reasoned, engaging debate from understanding the true nature of the horrors against marginalized communities they currently support. Instead, it many times ends 300 replies later, with me realizing that no matter how many essay-length comments I write under that gun control meme, I'm not going to suddenly make them empathetic.

It's become so routine that it's very easy to start to feel numb to all of it. I fight the impulse because there is too much at stake to close myself off. There are too many people in danger for me to hide, using my privilege of class, geographical location, and race to protect my feelings. Yet it's a delicate balance to walk. The nights where I've let too much in, I end up overwhelmed, incapacitated, and crying at the suffering of others and knowing that, while there are more battles to fight tomorrow, I'm powerless to do anything else today.

Yet balancing self-care with activism aside, this constant barrage of human rights abuses, sexual assault, indifference to suffering, judicial loses, racism, sexism, police brutality, toxic masculinity, political maneuvering, divisive partisanship, homophobia, transphobia, and much more has begun to strike at something that I've held deep in my soul my entire life; my optimism and belief in the human soul.

When I was young, I was obsessed with Star Trek. I watched every movie, saw every episode, read nearly every book, and collected the toys. Yet through all the geekiness -- and setting aside the problematic nature of Trek's Eurocentric value system -- I've come to understand that Star Trek gave me something much more: the belief that humanity is good and that coming together to actively work on the betterment of our collective soul was inevitable. Not just possible or likely, but inevitable. That one day, in the future, we would all recognize the inherent value of "infinite diversity in infinite combinations" and dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge and betterment of all life.

I have never seen myself as a devoutly religious person. Yet in my adult years, I've come to realize how much that early exposure to Star Trek shaped my worldview. I had internalized Star Trek and taken its beliefs to the core of my soul. Every action in my life, either for myself or others, was done with the knowledge that we are going to be better. These became my religious tenets, the ideals by which I led my life. Ideals that have now been under constant assault.

One need only take one look at the culture of the United States to question any belief in the betterment of humanity. How can we believe we will come together when every fact and opinion is debated with spite and vitriol? How will recognize the value of diversity when many barely turn an eye at the cruelty perpetrated at America's borders? Will we ever dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of knowledge if we can't even agree on the validity of basic facts? Perhaps it is naive to think we would focus on the betterment of all life over simply the betterment of ourselves.

A couple weeks ago, I found myself crying on the floor of my kitchen, overwhelmed after reading yet another news report of children being ripped away from their parents. Society may not be arching toward justice, I thought, but just an endless wheel fueled by hate, bigotry, and selfishness; this might be the true insight to humanity's future.

I did the only thing I thought would make me feel better. I turned on an episode of Star Trek. Yet the bright colors, cardboard sets, and overacted monologues only seemed to mock me further. It was only a silly dream.

Yet as I watched, I remembered something, a piece of geek knowledge that I had forgotten: Starfleet's motto, Per Aspera Ad Astra. Through hardships, to the stars.

A simple phrase. A bit of a cliche. But one that made me stop and think. For my entire life, I had focused on the second part of that motto; "to the stars." I saw our future and was so excited to get there. I forgot that the road towards the stars is paved with hardship. Yet that doesn't mean we stop believing that we can get there.

A better future is not inevitable. To think that makes it easy to stand aside, since "hardships" should also be expected. I will never believe that the suffering of others is acceptable or necessary. However, a better future is possible. It is something we can achieve, that we can attain. That we can and must fight for.

Being optimistic is a choice, not a belief. Yet it is a choice that I make a commitment to. I choose to believe we are better. I choose to believe that the soul of humanity is beautiful. I choose to believe that we will make a better future.

This choice will not be easy to maintain. It will be questioned and assaulted daily, especially with the world as it is today. But just as I promise to fight where I can for others, I make a promise to never give up on that better future, so that maybe, when our ancestors look back on the past, they don't see their wonderful world as anything but inevitable.

JESSIE EARL is a multimedia producer for The Advocate. When she isn't in a fetal position worrying about the state of our country, you can follow her geeky antics on's Nerd Out series or @jessiegender.

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