I received call a few months ago, asking if I’d mind participating in a survey. Since it was only going to take up seven minutes of my time, I thought, sure, why not?
The questions were mainly about consumer confidence. I was asked if I thought housing prices were higher than they had been this time last year. (I said no). I was asked if I thought they would go up in the future (I said yes). Then he asked me if our financial situation were better, worse or the same now, compared to the same time last year. I had to think. Our Offspring are getting older, and we’ve needed to pay for items we didn’t need before. I said that I thought we were slightly worse off, financially, than we had been. Finally, he asked me if I thought we would be better off at the same time next year. ‘Oh, better,’ I said, almost without thinking.
Isn’t that odd, though? I automatically assume that we will be better off next year, although in reality, it’s quite possible that won’t be the case. There’s talk of an increase in the GST. Third Offspring will be at full time school, which will mean more school uniforms to buy. Daycare costs have just gone up. And although both the Handsome Sidekick and I are working on getting our art to pay for itself, like most who work in creative industries, it’s so far been a lot of work for little return.
Hope springs eternal, though, doesn’t it? I don’t want to believe that things might get worse, even if logic dictates that there’s a good chance they will. It’s simply far too depressing to think that life gets worse, instead of better. Indeed, that kind of despair leads people to desperate, drastic measures.
What might prompt us to be optimistic rather than realistic? Perhaps it’s in our nature? A study led by the University of Vermont and published earlier this year seems to indicate that at the very least, our language is more often positive than negative. Of course, since the analysis was of the language used online, it could be that we’re presenting our ‘best side’ and therefore it’s not a true representation of how we really feel, but I’m not sure that accounts for all of it. I think that in general, we hope for the best.
What’s interesting, however, is the way in which this is countered with the kinds of fear-campaign we see in the media. Despite the fact that we are getting wealthier, and fewer people are dying from disease, we panic terribly about epidemics and terrorists, even though we ought to know that most of the time, for most of us, these threats are not really a threat. Of course, there are people for whom it is, and that is something we should work towards preventing! But I wonder for many of us in Western societies, whether worrying about these issues is simply something to do, since the majority of our woes really are ‘first world problems’ and we don’t want to seem petty by complaining about them.
Perhaps focussing on issues such as terrorism, which doesn’t affect us for the most part, is a distraction. It could be that we’re setting ourselves up to be able to worry about something far removed from our lives, because after a while, we realise we can’t really do anything about it, and we turn our attention back to our lives, not having needed to change them. But if we were as worried about climate change as much as we are about Islamic State–which we should be, given that climate change is much more likely to affect us across the world than Islamic State will–then we’d have to spring to action. We’d have to change our lifestyles, demand better climate policy from our politicians, divest from fossil fuels. Many items would become more, if not prohibitively, expensive, and we would have to get used to perhaps going without some of them. Yet we seem to imagine that somehow, it will all be OK. Someone, somewhere, will work out a way to mitigate the worst of the effects and we will be able to carry on, pretty much as we did before.
How odd, that we are more worried about our future being threatened by something we can’t control, instead of concerning ourselves with action on something we could. And perhaps that’s another human trait. We might be good at looking on the bright side, but we’re also very good at leaping to conclusions, and we’re creatures of habit. So we can assume that something is a threat when it isn’t, and look on the bright side when we really shouldn’t.
It’s enough to make you wonder how we even managed to get this far.