Optimism Through a Belief in the Inherent Goodness of Most People

This morning I had the opportunity to join Mark Matousek's writing class, "The Rational Path of Optimism."

Inviting me to the class, Mark promised, "you’ll explore the power of optimism as a life-saving trait and a path of insight. Optimism is a philosophical choice that's available whenever we open our eyes to full range of possibilities before us. This radical, uplifting way of seeing is the much-needed antidote to despair and personal awakening."

In answering Mark's questions, I shared one of my reasons for optimism - my faith in the inherent goodness of most people and their positive dreams for our shared future. I trust people unless I have a clear reason to distrust them.

 So too, asked about his optimism, Ukraine's President Zelenskyy highlighted his profound faith in people.

Read More: The Optimism of Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy

Optimims How and Why CoverIn considering the piece for Mark, I drew on the wise counsel shared in my book "Optimism: The How and Why."

The belief in the goodness of people is a foundation for optimism. 

There is a recognition of the capacity for love, learning, and change within individuals and an inner belief in the goodness of others. Circumstances or backgrounds do not limit this belief, as it is seen that most people aim to do their best and execute acts of kindness in their daily lives.

Optimism about the essential goodness in humanity is also seen as an important quality for leaders. It is described as the fuel for certainty and commitment, providing the motivation and drive to lead effectively. The resiliency of humanity, the energy and creativity of youth movements, and the care for each other and the planet are all attributed to the basic goodness in the human spirit.

The belief in goodness is not limited to individuals but extends to the broader concept of creation. It is seen as a driving force pushing humanity forward, leading to the anticipation of redemption and advancing a better future. This optimism is described as radical and active, honouring the goodness in all creation and inspiring hope for a new story that embraces the inherent goodness of people and the world.

Believing in Good People

Leadership & Life Coach Michelle A. Waters said, "What makes me optimistic is the capacity for people to love, learn and change. There is so much goodness inside everyone if we choose to see it, get out of our head and become still on the inside."

Dr Juliet Bourke said, "I don’t know why I am an optimist, but clearly I am. It could stem from an innate nature or how I have been nurtured, or perhaps both? What I do know is that I have an inner belief in the goodness of other people, and I think that is intertwined with my optimistic outlook."

Similarly, Sally Bailey, Director of Artemis Programs at Melbourne Girls Grammar, told me, "I am optimistic because I have a fundamental belief in the inherent goodness of people, and the human desire to connect, to love and to be loved. From times of achievement, celebration and prosperity, to those of adversity, tragedy and difficulty, I feel regularly humbled, comforted and emboldened by the helping hand of others, of people and communities coming together, and acts of compassion and courage.”

Looking back on my street interviews in Woodend, Mandy (Grabbing a Coffee) said, "What makes me optimistic?  It has been hard in the last 18 months to be optimistic with the way the world is. However, humanity has been around for thousands, millions of years. We will be around for a while longer, and this COVID-19 is not going to get us. So sure, there are challenges, but I think you also have to think about the goodness of people, that people are primarily good and honest and...yeah."

Christina Pagano told me, “I do remain confident in the basic goodness of the citizens of the world, most of whom wake up in the morning, and regardless of where they live or under what circumstances, aim to do the best they can in the course of the day. And in many cases, execute remarkable acts of kindness.

Denis Henry, when Chairman of the Royal Flying Doctor Service, answered my question “What makes a good leader?" with the answer "Optimism about the future and about the essential goodness in the majority of your community and workforce. Optimism is the fuel for the certainty and commitment a leader needs.”

Krista Kurth of Climate Action for Everyday People finds optimism in the energy, commitment, and creativity of the youth climate movement, the resiliency of humanity to meet global challenges, and "and the basic goodness in the human spirit that leads us to care for each other and our planetary home."

Professor Steven Langford told me, "People are core to my optimism. I work with highly intelligent and high performing, creative people. My optimism comes from understanding them and their aspirations for a better world – in my case, through science. Then extrapolating this to the work we do with younger generations, where passion and exploration of the world around them seamlessly combine with a need to understand Nature’s laws and human discovery means we are fundamentally in a great place."


Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the Rabbi of the Western Wall and Holy Sites, said, "Judaism "anticipates redemption, tikkun olam, a human reality that has no evil, just goodness. By anticipating redemption, we develop a tremendous drive to advance the process. This drive is what pushes humanity forward."

Like me, Father Richard Rohr, OFM is a radical optimist.  He wrote, "I believe that “radical optimism” and “Active Hope” are the keys to the flourishing of a new story. This new story honours the Good Story of our good God and the goodness of all creation.


Read More on Radical Optimism and Radical Optimists

Optimism, fueled by this faith in human goodness, is a driving force for positive change and progress.

Whether it's in personal relationships, business, leadership, spirituality, or addressing global challenges, the unwavering faith in the basic goodness of people and their potential to improve gives rise to hope, resilience, and a drive to make the world a better place. As we continue to navigate the complexities of life, let us hold on to this faith in the goodness of most people and their dreams, and embrace optimism.

Power Comes from Surrounding Yourself with Positive People


Whilst most people are good, your optimism and faith is made stronger by choosing the company of positive and optimistic people.

Asked about his optimism, Professor Bill George of Harvard Business School told me “I am optimistic because I believe in the inherent goodness of people and I am surrounded with positive optimistic people. What a blessing!”

This sound advice was also given to me by Paul Wheelton AM KSG, who said, "My success in business has come about by only associating with positive people. Avoid the glass half empty people - they drain your energy and turn your imagination off. "

The power of positivity in the form of optimism and surrounding oneself with positive people is also emphasized by others. Gordon Tredgold notes that being surrounded by positive people gives strength to try new things.   Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, stresses the significance of being grounded and optimistic while choosing the company one keeps.

Laura Kuhar, CSIRO: "I was always told to think positively and to stick around positive people, so optimism is mostly a state of mind for me. Sometimes though, optimism is a choice - it is not always easy to find an element of good in the worst situations, but it is possible, even if I have to look really hard!"

Sam Knight, World Commerce & Contracting Global Council Member: “Being positive and optimistic inspires others. It creates ideas and drives collaboration and thought-sharing. I aim to be an optimist and surround myself with optimists. We are the people who can face a challenge head-on and come up with multiple options to make the best of any situation."

Sharyn County, Head Of Procurement at Jemena: "What makes me optimistic is people: Meeting, working with and leading passionate, motivated people. Seeing those I lead and have led be successful and creating a safe environment that takes into account the differences in people to enable this."

Gönül Serbest, Chief Executive Officer, Global Victoria: "Optimism is magnetic - anything is possible when you attract positive energy and people through the right mindset."

 Louise Scott Heatley, World Commerce and Contracting: "Striving to see the positive, surrounding myself with like-minded people and being grateful for all that I have makes my life so much happier and more optimistic than ever!"

Gary Gopinathan, Executive Director, The John Maxwell Team: "As an entrepreneur and leader, I find optimism through surrounding myself with positivity and positive people.”

Maria Govers, Director Business Operations at GenWest: “I like being optimistic and being surrounded by optimism. Optimism creates positive energy and inspires me to find solutions and opportunities. As a leader, I find myself using positive energy created by my optimism to inspire, lead the way and make work fun empowering the team to find solutions and opportunities."

Dave Buettner, founder of the Blue Zones Projects: “We know that behaviours are measurably contagious, People in Blue Zones are living longer and are happier than most of us as a result of their environment. Rather than sign up for some positive psychology class, proactively make a friend who you know is positive and optimistic. For every new happy person, you add to your network, your own happiness goes up."

Dr Wendy Patrick: "We are drawn to people who make us feel happy, hopeful, and optimistic, and when they are gone, we want to see them again."

Anil Dash, CEO of Glitch: “If you can trust in a community, and you can trust in your ability to express yourself, and you can trust in having a safe place to share your ideas, that gives you space to be optimistic,. It gives you space to have some hope to think you have something to share when the ground is shifting under you and you can’t take people at their word.”

Mary Berry, Communities of Respect: “What makes me optimistic? Being surrounded by amazing people who work selflessly to help others and pave futures of opportunity, inclusion, resilience and strength within our communities."

Khurram Khani, Senior Associate, Risk Execution at NAB: "I feel optimistic because there are still fantastic people around us who are resilient, positive and optimistic. These individuals are the community's spine and play a dynamic role in mentoring youth like me in the right direction. They are the same individuals who volunteer their time and efforts to give back to their local communities and future generations."

Bedros Keuilian, Fit Body Boot camp: “Only share your big dreams, ambitions, and goals with the people in your life who are positive, optimistic, and have similar ambitions. Those are the people who will encourage, motivate, and inspire you to become the best version of yourself.”




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