The last few weeks of politics in the United States have felt particularly discouraging for me. Usually, I am able to take bad news in stride. I feel sad and then move on and try to do something productive. But Justice Kennedy’s retirement announcement felt like a punch in the gut that was harder to recover from. I found myself starting to spiral down into despair.
And so I had to zoom out.
Zooming out is one of the most important of the Radical Optimist’s tools. By zooming out, I place a current discouraging event in geographic, temporal, and if necessary cosmic perspective. I zoom out to a lens through which I can remind myself of the progress we’ve made, the progress we’re likely to make in the future, and all the things in the world there are to be grateful and in awe of.
- Geographic – Zooming out to progress in other countries: Yes, the United States appears to be in rough shape right now, perhaps even permanent decline, but many nations around the world are flourishing. Poverty is at an all-time low. Perhaps our country’s demise will serve as a warning for other countries.
- Temporal – Zooming out to the progress over time: Yes, this Supreme Court decision has set us back many years, but the broad trajectory of the United States is pointing towards more equality and justice for all. It may take a long time, and that is sad, but I believe that we will get there if people like me do the work.
- Cosmic – Zooming out to all the possibility beyond humanity and even Earth: Yes, perhaps human society is caving in on itself. Perhaps humanity as we know it is over. But perhaps hundreds of thousands of years from now, another species will try again here on Earth. Perhaps they will succeed where we failed. And if we destroy the Earth, somewhere out there in the universe is a civilization that has taken a different decision than humans, one toward peace, justice, sustainability, and wonder.
The zoom out reminds us that while things may look bleak and beyond repair from our perspective, they never really are, not truly or universally. More often than not, we are simply clouded by negativity bias. We choose to focus on the bad, when there is good right in front of our noses. But even when there is good reason for despair for humans and for Earth, there’s never need to despair for the universe, the project of life that we as humans are just one small part of.
The project of life in this universe has revealed beauty and wonder the likes of which we can’t possibly comprehend. Life exists far beyond what we know here on Earth. And it is beautiful and will continue well after the last human and even Earth itself.
I find deep solace, joy, and motivation in that thought. And so can you. To get there, all you need to do is zoom out.