Optimism : a state of mind to be cultivated

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Optimism: a state of consciousness to be cultivated.
Raising the consciousness of the world.
No one is born an optimist, free of problems, pain and sadness. Optimism is a learning
process which starts with a conscious decision to develop a state of mind conducive to
self knowledge and self control. This is what we are about. The aim of the League of
Optimists is to initiate a cultural revolution based on a commitment to be optimistic –
through an act of will rather than reckless abandon. This revolution will have confidence
in the future, fostering the spirit of initiative and working for a more beautiful, just and
humane world. We choose cooperation based on a belief in abundance rather than
competition arising from the fear there is not enough to go round.
We believe in focusing on relationships rather than material things. In this economic
crisis – which is perhaps only just beginning - this may end up becoming a foregone
conclusion. It is more than a crisis; it is a major upheaval in values which we hope will
end our society’s obsession with overproduction and mass consumption - a way of life
which has never provided lasting happiness.
This positive revolution will render the old world obsolete1. Perhaps ‘mutation’ would be
a better description than « crisis », since the latter implies a return to a previous state2.
This ‘mutation’, painful as it is, could be an opportunity to grow together, a reason to
hope for a genuinely happier future.
The values behind the league’s idea of ‘realistic informed optimism’ draw inspiration
from Emmanuel Kant, who said that we should act such that the world would not be
troubled if everyone behaved like us. Mahatma Gandhi said the earth provides for
everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed. The economy should aspire to the
welfare of all, including the weakest, and therefore should never act contrary to the
highest ethical principles.
This financial crash may in fact turn out to have been necessary. Could the West really
have continued indefinitely to waste resources and destroy the planet without considering
the poverty of three quarter’s of the world’s population? Four years ago (in 2006) when
there was an general atmosphere of euphoria I wrote, « The economy, which used to
belong to the ploughman and the craftsman, and then to merchants and manufacturers,
has now largely fallen into the clutches of the financiers - a potentially lethal situation since it is hardly likely that endless returns on equity can co-exist with industrial ethics,
human rights and conservation. »
It turned out that I was not optimistic enough. I thought that ploughmen, craftsmen,
tradesmen and manufacturers faced a hard struggle against the financial sector which had
wrapped itself in a cloak of honour and ethics but which concealed the sole desire to
1
2
Anne de Ligne, vice-chairman of the international association Optimists Without Borders
According to Albert Jacquard.
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make quick profits. We are all responsible for their attitude. We all had a hand in
insisting on profit which is unsustainable in a healthy economy. The financial sector then
collapsed like a house of cards, but now a better world can be built on the ruins, a
healthier society which respects what is sacred.
So what is money? Is it an inanimate object, something we obsess over to stifle our fear
of death, since money is a number and by definition numbers are infinite? Or is it a
wonderful form of energy that can be used to achieve great things? We need to rethink
our attitude to the planet too. Rather than see what we can get out of it we should treat it
as the nourishing earth, an inexhaustibly fertile place - as long as we respect it. The earth
deserves the kind of loving care our ancestors once gave it, but all too often greed blinds
us to this fact.3
Business needs new values and to accommodate the interests of society and the planet as
a whole. The time has come for business to talk about prosperity, not profit4, to measure
every activity against what it can achieve and think not only about being the best but also
how to act for the best.5
The sudden dramatic shocks which shook us out of our selfishness are a marvellous
opportunity to excel in creativity and audacity – the best possible reasons to wake up to
optimism.
Under the mantel of romantic surrealism, the intention of the League of Optimists of the
Kingdom of Belgium is to promote those great values which draw their inspiration from
an optimistic frame of mind - while not taking itself too seriously! Our league was set up
on 4 October 2005, to mark the 175th anniversary of Belgium’s independence, with 175
founding members. Today the league has 3,500 members from all of the country’s
regions and has already spawned several sister associations in other countries as well as
an international umbrella association, Optimists Without Borders.
As the founder of what is now an international movement, I believe myself to be
privileged to live in a country located at the crossroads between two cultures.6 My dream
is to bring together the psychology departments of our major universities with the aim of
setting up a Joint Dispute Settlement Body. Their test case would be the amazing
institutional laboratory that is Belgium itself! And this would then serve as a model for
resolving all conflicts on earth.
The league’s message of optimism and faith in the future can only work if it is delivered
with a touch of humour! After all, François de Rochefoucauld said that often virtues are
vices in disguise, and far be it from us to take the moral high ground. The aim of the
Pierre Rabhi, Manifesto For the Earth and Humanism – for an insurrection of consciousness, Actes Sud
2008.
4
According to the theory of Dieter Van Walle.
5
Guibert del Marmol, Tomber plus haut : comment redécouvrir son intelligence intérieure. Le Serpent à
Plumes, 2009.
6
Whereas many see it as a fault line.
3
2
international association “Optimists Without Borders” is to promote enthusiasm – in its
original meaning7 - which encompasses optimism, boldness, the spirit of initiative,
tolerance and understanding between citizens and communities. It hopes in this way to
raise the world’s level of consciousness. The philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said
that as the world becomes more complex its level of consciousness must also rise. The
way to do this is of course to inform, teach, share and transfer. This is why, together with
other admirable associations such as Tetra, Philosophy and Management and the Institute
of Neurosciences, I enjoy organising conferences and seminars to help us all become
increasingly aware and more responsible citizens.
The creation of « Optimistan » is firmly within Belgian surrealist tradition and aspires
precisely to such a state of consciousness. Optimistan is a landless state, and its citizens
are the league’s members and its sister associations. It will be what Cordoba once was
one thousand years ago.
There was once a time, in the 11th and beginning of the 12th centuries, and a place –
Andalusia - where the three monotheistic religions chose to respect, admire and mutually
inspire each other. Their great philosophers enjoyed complete freedom to exchange ideas
among themselves and with the Greek philosophers. Science and religion co-existed
peacefully. Many languages were spoken there: Arabic, Berber, the Romance languages
and Hebrew. Those who hailed from the North sometimes chose to argue their point in
French, Flemish or Genoese. Merchants from the Frankish kingdom, Tuscany, the
northern seas, the coast of India, Africa and China made Cordoba - a small, remote town
in Andalusia - the most prosperous city in the West, the main trading post west of India, a
melting pot for all forms of knowledge, a meeting point for religions and a refuge for
those fleeing fanaticism and bigotry.
It was the scene of unparalleled cross-fertilisation between men of faith, intellectuals,
medics and merchants, and was of mutual benefit to all.
Taking the road less travelled by: the bold path of creativity.
Andalusia conquered its conquerors, who soon fell in love with its gentle way of life.
They abandoned their fundamentalism and allowed the three religions to co-exist in
peace. They developed a passion for poetry and music8.
Could « Optimistan » also be a place where different forms of intelligence converge, the
meeting point of all languages, skin colours, trends of thought and the refuge of those
fleeing intolerance?
Optimistan is intended to be a ‘state’ whose law is founded on high morals and taking
responsibility for one’s own life. Saint-Exupery said to be a man means embracing
7
The word « enthusiasm » comes from the Greek « en theou athmos » which means literally « in the breath
of God » or if you prefer a less anthropomorphic or patriachal reference, « in the breath of universal
consciousness ».
8
Jacques Attali -La Confrérie des Eveillés, livre de poche 2006.
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responsibility - the sense that our life is one of the building blocks of the world.9 It will
be a land of hope, since hopelessness and a sense of responsibility are mutually
exclusive10.
Optimistan will be a land in which every citizen will benefit from the differences in
others, an itinerant country, wandering like a nomad, with its capital located in a different
city every year and where the international association « Optimists Without Borders »
will hold its annual Optimism Conference, inviting world-famous speakers to
participate11.
Optimistan will be a state where the only official language will be music. As Sofia
Gubaidulina said, « life fragments people into so many pieces that I know of no task
more worthwhile than helping them to put their spirit back together through music ».
Optimistan will not proclaim independence but total compliance with universal values.
We do not seek to convince pessimists, sceptics or cynics, but only to unite those who
have confidence in life and have chosen to be optimistic. Together we are strong and our
enthusiasm will grow. Confidence inspires; it is the opposite of fear which so often has its
roots in ignorance, especially fear of others who may be of a different social class,
culture, skin colour, religion or language.
Though not a political forum12, the league’s aim is to rebuild a sense of citizenship.
Optimists are convinced that thought creates reality. Their battle is one against
depression, negativity and a sense of pointlessness. They prefer to focus on good news
rather than seek out bad. They try to speak well of others since they know how pleasing it
is to hear good things said about oneself.
If we are free to think, we are responsible for what we think. We carry our share of
responsibility for everything that happens in the universe. For this reason the optimist has
claimed mastery over his own mind rather than being its slave. He steers it in a positive
direction, avoiding the path of despondency. This is a phenomenal act of free will but this
power and freedom implies an equally great sense of responsibility.
Responsibility is of course the very foundation of optimism. If we blame others for bad
luck or problems we will not be able to transform our lives. A happy life and the freedom
that this brings are privileges reserved for those who are aware of their power. People
who understand this principle refuse to conform and choose instead to take risks and
embrace creativity. They also know that optimism begins with acceptance of where they
are now, since there is nothing more absurd than fighting things we cannot control.
9
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Terre des Hommes, Gallimard 1939.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Pilote de Guerre, Gallimard 1942.
11
The first world Optimism Congress will be held in Brussels on 26, 27 and 28 October 2011.
12
Article 3.3 of the League’s Statutes stipulates that the association is not a political forum and will not
engage in political debate.
10
4
Those who seek pearls must be prepared to fathom deep waters. This involves daring to
step out into the unknown. The more security we have, the more we fear, and we fear
above all the loss of our security. But the moment a person takes this step, Providence
moves too. Dare to take the step and wonderful surprises are in store. Events and
coincidences are lined up in the most unexpected way. He who dares attracts power and
magic beyond his wildest dreams13.
Above all, our members believe that optimism springs from positive values. Abandoning
hope can only infect society with despondency. This does not mean faking happiness
whatever happens - we all know that to criticise is easy, but art is difficult. Nevertheless
the world is a much better place than the media would have us believe, and what is more,
realistic optimism is good for your health – for the optimist is a person of action, which is
the opposite of being a victim !
He who dares creates power and magic and genius!
13
Wolfgang von Goethe
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