The scarce optimism of the luckiest generation – Musings on the coming Year

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This morning my husband asked me what I will remember of 2013. (Of course he already had a long list of what he was going to remember in his head, ready to dish it out). Easy: a long year, filled with the 1001 small frustrations of a dissonant Saturn and a few moments of lightness. It marked the end of my mid-30s crisis started the year before (punctuated by questions as “Am I old?” “When does one become old in this evergreen world?” “Is it too late for me?” “Is this it? What life is all about? Why didn’t anyone tell me?”) and the first time I started looking at the bottom line of my little world and choosing what (and who) to let go of, what to keep. It’s not of my little accomplishments I’d like to talk, though.

I’d rather spend a few words on something that has been on my mind this whole past year (and will stay there for some time to come): where is the optimism gone and why are we so forgetful (when not plainly ungrateful)? Why my generation, which probably is one of the luckiest in history in terms of opportunities, access, education, healthcare, civil and human rights can’t but complain of its time?

A few day before Christmas, during a family lunch, I listened for the hundredth time to the same old story: Facebook is ruining youngsters, people don’t communicate anymore, children are glued to screens and violence will rule the world. Another apocalyptic resumé of our times. When it is a person of a certain age to say so, I won’t object. It’s the prerogative of older generations to criticize the younger ones. A way to show their dismay before a changing world.

What leaves me puzzled and saddened is when someone my age starts his/her personal cahier des doléances. Here’s the hit parade of what is wrong with the planet:

– changing climate and pollution

– pharmaceutic multinationals trying to keep us all sick to continue making money selling us fatal drugs

– governments plotting to oblige children to vaccinate so they can keep being funded by the above mentioned conglomerates

– cancer being a punishment for our manipulated foods, wi-fi, medication abuse and cell phones antennas

– going to university is not good enough anymore: we won’t have any jobs and will have to resign ourselves to living frugally for the rest of our lives (thus betraying the previous generation’s yuppie dream)

– lack of civil and human rights in a far too wide part of the world

– lack of gender equality in payrolls and in higher executive positions

– violence, racism and war in still several parts of the world

I might be forgetting some other points but these are those always coming up at the dinner table, on Facebook groups and over holidays. While some of these complaints are entirely questionable, some others are well founded. The point is that focusing on this is extremely ungrateful and shows that my generation has probably been a little too lucky.

Vaccines and antibiotics have changed the face of the planet, freeing those lucky enough to live where healthcare is a right from all the diseases that plagued, crippled and killed entire generations. Go tell to a mother sitting by the bed of her child hit by polio that vaccinating is bad. Explain to those struggling for their life over a simple lung infection the potential dangers of antibiotics.

We live longer than any other generation before us and that means, of course, that we have more cancer. But it also means that many of these cancers are today curable while not longer than 30 years ago breast cancer was an irrevocable death sentence .

Thinking, and saying that governments and private companies are plotting to kill humanity is not only nonsensical but it also shows a huge lack of confidence in fellow human beings. Bad people have always existed and will always operate and scheme and plot in every part of the world but I am convinced of the profound goodness of humanity.

We have been polluting our planet for centuries. And yet we are now working to clean it up. When I was a child streets in Rome were filled with waste. People would throw an empty packet of cigarettes at their feet and keep walking.

In primary school, we had a map of Europe on the wall parted in two. On the right side, a color for every country and detailed borders and cities. Even villages. On the left side, everything was orange. No details. It was the Soviet bloc. People on our side – the teacher explained – chose freedom and modernity. Those on the left were oppressed, persecuted and queued for hours in order to get groceries. I don’t think I am the only western European of my generation to still have a lingering feeling  of uneasiness whenever I think of those eastern countries. We didn’t share the same history nor we grew up with the same cultural references. We are still learning about each other.

The continent that’s produced the highest number of wars since the beginning of times has managed to get together in its still very imperfect way and to talk, dream and build common ideals on that shared history. If to my grandparents a German or an Englishman were as foreign as is today a Bhutanese to me, European millennials travel easily and marry each other. They don’t feel distant anymore.

The Internet and the social networks have facilitated communication and awareness of what is going on in the world. I can’t but think of the role Twitter played during the Arab spring and of how the timid attempts of national governments to obscure the press are bound to fail in the long run. Like it or not, we are all connected today and despite the occasional dangers, it is a great gift.

I found a Belgian newspaper of 1910 where a large article was dedicated to the the suffragettes marching in London to ask for their voting rights. The journalist, appalled, commented that “If we are to grant the right to vote to women, then what? Negroes will come asking for the same thing”. It was only 100 years ago. Liberal, rich, modern Switzerland conceded the right to vote to women just in 1971. Gender equality is not here yet but the progress humanity has made in the past century is astonishing. We have to keep working, and fighting and standing up for it to go forward but let’s not commit the mistake of forgetting how much we’ve done.

A few weeks ago the whole world watched South Africa mourning a black man who spent most of his life in prison as a terrorist and yet went on to shape the new identity of his natal country. Of course, racism still exist. But humanity is moving forward.

Being gay was a crime in most countries at the beginning of the past century. It still is in some part of the worlds but it is a fact that homosexuality stopped being a taboo in the West.

Violence is more present on tv and screens but it is more condemned too. Do you remember the tales or cartoons of our childhood, fellow Millennials? They were scary. Even the Disney movies displayed such violence that today feels simply inappropriate for a younger audience. (The circus men in Dumbo? Mistreating animals? The evil stepmother ordering the huntsman to kill her young stepdaughter and to bring her heart back as a proof?). Violence is not tolerated as it used to be and so much effort and energies are directed toward children education and respect of the difference and of disabilities. I can’t say it was like this when I was growing up.

I could continue for hours but the point is: on this last day of 2013 I feel grateful and blessed to be living in this time. I might not have a stable job or a pension awaiting or the perspective of a future as comfortable as the one my parents had. But I live in a much freer world then they did and if that means more uncertainty over material comfort it also means more flexibility and less egoism.

I wish you a 2014 filled with optimism and bright thoughts. And, well, for the Leos out there: Saturn is almost gone, pop the champagne:)

5 comments

  1. I get what you are saying but have somehow even in the toughest times only temporarily lost the ‘optomistic’ bug…drives others crazy who are much more content complaining. 🙂 Amazing how a little newspaper time travel can put things into perspective, eh? Much has changed and much more will change. Happy new year to you and all you hold dear!!

  2. Dear Ms Ottominuti, I’m neither optimist nor pessimist. I’m glad to remember an old Italian phrase (who said it I leave to you to discover): il nuovo anno ci porterà quello che sapremo conquistarci. Happy New Year to you and your family.

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