The Age of Pessimism? A Culture of Pessimism?

The Age of Pessimism?

In a column in the Jerusalem Post, Rabbi Moshe Taragin, a rabbi at Yeshivat Har Etzion/Gush, a hesder yeshiva, speaks of "The Age of Pessimism."

For Judaism and Israel, The Rabbi argues, "We are currently surrounded by a culture of pessimism. Several anti-humanistic trends are weakening our belief in the future of humanity and are causing widespread pessimism. The first tide of pessimism is based on environmental concerns about the unlimited growth of technology and how it is causing irreparable damage to our planet. This bleak outlook about the future is infecting modern culture with pessimism, convincing us that tomorrow will undoubtedly be worse than today. Astonishingly, some even assert that it is pointless and selfish to bring children into a world that will soon go extinct. Panic about global destruction is causing widespread anticipatory anxiety and is providing a gloomy outlook about our future on this planet. We obviously must do better to conserve planetary resources, but without demoralizing doomsday prophecies and without falling into pessimism."

As some of you know, I often refer to the Australian community as caught in a "fog of pessimism." Last week, Umair Haque called the problem a "tsunami of pessimism sweeping the globe."

There are other policy thinkers concerned about this trend. Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said, "We have entered an era without precedent, certainly not in living memory, and it has led to a loss of optimism almost across the world."

As the House of Commons leader, Penny Mordaunt, wrote, "The faultline in politics at the moment is not between left and right but between optimists and pessimists. We need optimists for the next tough shift."

What's the Problem, According to Moshe Taragin?

Focused on the problem related to Israel and Judaism, Moshe argues, "Though doubt and uncertainty are vital for personal religious growth, pessimism and uncertainty about our collective future are religiously unhealthy. Essential to religious belief is an optimistic view of the future. God established a historical covenant with our people guaranteeing our Jewish destiny. We may face temporary or even prolonged adversity, but Jewish destiny is inevitable. Excess pessimism about our future represents a deficiency of faith in God. Faith isn't meant to glaze over hardship or propose naive assumptions that "everything will be all right." However, faith should provide a bedrock of optimism for our long-term prospects."

Israel: "Israelis have their own set of reasons to be pessimistic. Over the past year, life in Israel hasn't always been rosy. We have endured terrible internal strife, which has shattered our national unity and torn apart our social fabric. In the past, as difficult as life has been in Israel, we always took solace in national unity as the great equalizer. We may have encountered difficult periods, but at least we faced the challenges together, as one family. There is nothing like being at home, even when adversity strikes. However, over the past year, it has felt as though our home itself is burning. To make matters worse, our enemies have sensed our social vulnerability and have begun rattling the sabres of war. Over the past year in Israel, there has been much to be pessimistic about," writes the Rabbi.


Farmers: The Rabobank Rural Confidence Survey released today reveals that Australia's farming community optimism has fallen to its lowest level in more than four years. Under their measure, only 11 per cent of farmers now project an improvement in the agricultural economy over the coming 12 months. This low level of positive sentiment indicates rising anxieties in Australia's agricultural industries.

The Kids: "Are The Kids OK?" is the provocative question posed by Dr Quentin Maire, Nadishka Weerasuriya, and Associate Professor Jenny Chesters in their University of Melbourne Life Patterns research project 2022, which surveyed Year 11, Australian students published last week. The results revealed a palpable sense of pessimism amongst the respondents: fewer than half felt optimistic about Australia's future, and a mere one in six expressed confidence in the world's future. In fact, over half of the students (53%) were pessimistic about the world's future, echoing a prevailing sense of hopelessness when contemplating the fate of their generation worldwide. Similarly, 14.4% of participants expressed pessimism about their personal future, with 29% feeling the same about Australia's future.

The Centre for Optimism

We established the Centre for Optimism in response to this rising tide of pessimism. We're driven by a mission to nurture hope and positivity. Drawing from a lifetime of optimism, four years of intensive research into Australian leadership, and five years of research on optimism focused on the questions, "What makes you optimistic?" and "What makes you feel optimistic?" we aim to lift the pervasive 'fog of pessimism.'

We encourage everyone to add a little optimism to their everyday interactions. This could be as simple as modifying a greeting to include, "What's been the best thing in your day?"

At the Centre, we recommend exercises such as "My Optimism Superpower" and "Imagine My Best Self". We also host popular workshops at conferences, workplaces, and schools. Through these endeavours, we empower individuals to envision and build a positive future for themselves, Australia, and the world.

Tharman's call to action was stirring and precise, "Creating bases for optimism has to be our central task everywhere in the world and through global collaboration. We must create bases for optimism to see ourselves through this long storm and to emerge intact; emerge a better place, and it can be done."

In the face of this global loss of optimism, we must rise to the challenge. It's not just the politicians, the leaders, or the educators; each of us has a role to play in this. We must strive to be a beacon of optimism, a ray of hope piercing the fog of pessimism.

All we can do is all we can do. The only person we can change is ourselves.

So, as we confront the pessimism, trials and tribulations of our times, let us reframe our mindsets and conversations. Let's ask, "What's been the best thing in your day?" Let's exercise our "Optimism Superpower" and imagine our best selves.

Let's foster hope and positivity in our children, workplaces, communities, and world; through this collective effort, we can emerge from this storm intact, better, stronger, and more optimistic about the future. This is our call to action. This is our challenge. And this is a challenge we can and must rise to.


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