My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.
Lots of Canadians have repeated those words since Jack Layton used them in his farewell letter before his untimely death this summer. I liked them so much, I bought the T-shirt.
The message of love over anger, hope over fear, optimism over despair, can seem naive and simplistic in our complicated world. As a follow-up to my Remembrance Day post I felt like posting this picture of my T-shirt because it makes me happy to wear it, and reflecting on those words actually gives me some strength when I feel overwhelmed.
Yes, it’s a political statement, and I have no problem saying that I admired Jack Layton as a political leader as well as a person. I voted for his party; I’ve always voted NDP and I probably always will. I’m a hardcore old lefty social democrat, and somewhat of a liberal in Christian terms too (at least in the context of my own church). I’ll readily own up to the fact that I think the Love + Hope + Optimism formula works well for us liberals trying to survive and do good under what we see as repressive and backward conservative regimes (namin’ no names here, Mr. Harper or anyone else you might like to mention in there…).
But I honestly believe it works well as a philosophy for anyone, even those whose views might be diametrically opposed to mine. No matter what you think are the problems in the world or in your community or in your church or in your workplace, and no matter what kind of change you want to bring about, there’s always a temptation to anger, fear and despair. Perhaps the real temptation is to fear — the fear that things will get so broken they can never get fixed. Fear swings some people towards the pole of anger, constantly ranting and trying to beat down their opponents. It moves others in the direction of despair, giving up apathetically and believing nothing will ever change. And neither of those attitudes makes the world a better place.
If all of us — liberals and conservatives and those who reject labels — could respond with hope instead of fear, then we might be moved to optimism and even to love for those who disagree with us. We could get on with the business of trying to change the world with a little less collateral damage. Even when we oppose each other, if both sides could do it with love, hope and optimism, the world would already be changed.
As I do my usual reflection on Remembrance Day I think what’s changed since last year. Our combat mission in Afghanistan has ended, which I believe is a good thing. But it hasn’t ended because the job is done and we’ve left a stable, uncorrupt government behind in Afghanistan, not by a long shot. War and terrorism and corruption are still going on, and it’s hard, sometimes, not to succumb to fear and anger and despair.
Love + Hope + Optimism is a good formula for our personal lives as well. This year on Remembrance Day I paused to remember my friend and co-worker Jeff, who died suddenly on November 11, 2010. I can’t even imagine what this year has been like for his wife and kids. For me, I think of Jeff’s death as the kick-off to a year that contained far more tragedies and trouble than I like to see in a single year — and even at that, I know I’ve still gotten off easy compared to what some people have had to go through in terms of hardship and loss this year. It’s so difficult not to be swallowed by fear, by anger, by despair when things are difficult, whether in our personal lives, our communities, or in the wider world.
I’m still enough of an idealist to believe that love, and hope, and optimism — in the form of simple, daily choices — can change the world. Or at least change the way we view the world. And that’s why I wear the T-shirt.