Andrew Parkin's Optimism "People don't give up"

Andrew Parkin, Executive Director of Canada's Environics Institute for Survey Research in conversation with Victor Perton, COO at The Centre for Optimism. 


"People don't give up. I guess at the end of the day that's what makes me optimistic."

“I think optimism is part in my nature.  I tend to look at the world in a glass half full kind of way, and always have.

"People are doing it amazingly well, and they are changing, they are demanding, they are moving things forward. And so that's what makes me optimistic."

Victor Perton:  Andrew Parker, what makes you optimistic?

Andrew Parkin:   “Thanks for having me and for asking me the question.

“For me, it's just young people.

“I guess there are still some in the world who think that younger adults today have it easy compared to how tough things were in the past. I think that's completely backwards.

”I think it's much more difficult for people to come of age and to become adults and move through education and move into work and cope with everything that's going on today. And yet people are doing it amazingly well, and they are changing, they are demanding, they are moving things forward. And so that's what makes me optimistic."

Victor Perton:  “People often say they are optimistic looking at life through the eyes of a child.”

“But as you say, young adults are navigating themselves through an increasingly complex world and making a difference.

Victor Perton:  How do you maintain your optimism? Some people meditate. Some people do it through exercise. I do it by asking people what makes you optimistic? How do you maintain your optimism?

Andrew Parkin:  "Well, it's certainly been harder this year than otherwise.

“I think optimism is part in my nature.  I tend to look at the world in a glass half full kind of way, and always have.

"So I'm lucky enough that I don't, I guess, have to work at it as consciously maybe as others.

"At the same time, I guess I just I gravitate to, like a lot of people, you can choose to read and dwell on the negative or you can choose to find the positive.   I hunt for the information that I find encouraging."

Victor Perton: One of the superb pieces of research you've done this year is your Better Canada study. Do you want to tell us about that?

Andrew Parkin:  Sure. One of the surveys that we did in 2020, we did with our friends at Vancity, which is a credit union here in Canada.

"We wanted to see essentially what the outlook of Canadians was in a very difficult year.

"And we started with the question of whether that outlook was changing.

"Was it obviously getting less optimistic given everything that was going on?

"But we were optimistic enough when we did the survey that we were looking ahead to an eventual recovery, and a number of the questions we asked were about what people wanted to move into, what they hoped the country would look like afterwards. So that was the nature of the study. And one of the things that we found that I think surprised us a little bit is that, obviously, if you ask people right now, how is the economy going in the middle of a shutdown? People will say it's negative, and more likely to say that than they were before. That's obvious.

"But if you go beyond that, there actually had been very little change in people's outlook over the course of the year, in terms of their more deep rooted sense of the way the world was going, which doesn't mean that everyone was positive, it just meant that the sort of breakdown of more or less positive was similar to what we'd seen before.

"A number of people feel they can deal with adversity. Unfortunately, a number of people think it's much more difficult.

"But, again, the point is, is that in 2020, so far that hasn't been much more different than it was before. So overall, the pandemic has not shaken things up as much as one might've expected."

Victor Perton: one of the findings you made was that optimism was strongest in the young and strongest in the older, and it dipped in the middle. Do you want it to tell us a bit more about that?

Andrew Parkin:  "Yes. Actually, that pattern held across a range of items. So certainly hopes for change, to what extent do you think we can deal with issues like inequality or climate change? But also a degree of engagement, so to what extent are you involved in either a community group or discussion online or contacting your representative and so on? So both optimism and engagement, and in some cases, confidence about the way things were going. As you said, they were highest among our youngest adults, the people 18 to 30 roughly, but they were second highest among our seniors. So often, when you look at these things, you just see a line on the graph goes like this, youngest to oldest or oldest to youngest. But as you said, this one is a curve like that.

"I think I take two things away from that. One is I think it is encouraging that our youngest generation is the most optimistic and the most engaged. At the same time, I think if you do want to be even handed and look at the other side of the coin, I think it shows that those who are, I mean, middle-aged is a term no one really gravitates towards, but essentially those who are in their core working years, more likely to have children at home, and so on are the most likely to be finding things difficult right now. And I think we need to celebrate the optimism of youth, but realize that this is probably an indication also that the middle generations, they don't have as much time to be engaged with issues outside of their day-to-day.

Victor Perton:  So if we want to get them messages of hope and optimism, we've probably got to improve the ways we deliver it to them so they'd feel a little bit more in control. I guess, if you've got teenagers at home and navigating school and all of those sorts of things, you feel pressed upon, don't you?

Andrew Parkin: "Yes and just the realities of everything from juggling work and your children's school to the affordability of housing in this country, to wondering about what decisions governments are making about taxes and so on. All of those I think hit those middle age groups."

Victor Perton: And when you look at the results and where people feel they have agency to make change in government policy or change in the way of the world, what were the high points, both amongst the young and the old? Where did they feel that they could make change?

Andrew Parkin: Well, one of the things that, again, has surprised me a little is we asked about the local level, the regional level and the national level, and like Australia we're a Federation so we have very strong state governments or provincial governments for us, and we wondered if it would stack, that people would feel some agency locally, but the further away you got, the weaker it would get. And that actually didn't happen. So it doesn't depend on which level of government. So that's one aspect. I think maybe to answer the question a little differently, I think that Canadians are probably feeling we're making more progress on some types of inequality, but less on others.

So when it comes to certainly gender equality, I think we Canadians are the most optimistic or confident about our ability to make progress. And after that becomes ethnic or racial equality, which doesn't mean that we think we've gotten there, but I think there's some sense that we're on the right path. But much less of a positive outlook around economic issues and economic inequality. So when it comes to I guess the nuts and bolts of how the economy works and how resources are distributed in the country that's where I think people feel they have less of a sense of agency and less of a way forward to make improvements in that.

Victor Perton: And so from the research, what makes you most optimistic for Canada for 2021 and beyond?

Andrew Parkin:  "Well, just the fact that I think the theme for me that comes out of this research and other research that we've done over the course of the year I think is a theme of openness and generosity, that across a number of questions, this year, Canadians with the crisis, both the health crisis and the economic crisis, you could say the door was open to Canadians turning both inward and against one another in the context of extreme pressure. And that absolutely did not happen.

"In fact, if anything happened, Canadians moved in the direction of greater openness, greater generosity, concern for those less fortunate, continued support for immigration, heightened concerned around racism in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. So I guess what I'm saying is that the pandemic could have provided this excuse to not be as generous as we would like, and Canadians didn't opt for that easy way out I think and stuck to the direction that I think most in the country want to head in, and that's, to me, I think profoundly reassuring and encouraging."

Victor Perton: And for the world, what makes you optimistic for the world in general 2021 and beyond?

Andrew Parkin: "Well, that is a tougher question I think, because it is a difficult time, because of the pandemic, and there's the other issues around climate change in geopolitics, and so on.

“But people don't give up. I guess at the end of the day that's what makes me optimistic.

“Whether it's with the research that drives us towards vaccines or whether it's the countless thousands and millions who protested against racism over the course of 2020, the tenacity of people, I think you have to turn to that as the source of optimism."


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