”An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places–and there are so many–where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”
That’s Howard Zinn back in 2004, in his The Optimism of Uncertainty, and it was excerpted in this month’s Sun magazine, where I ran across it.
Along the same theme this week I wound up watching a movie called Our Friend Martin with my daughter, then watching a documentary about the bugging of high-ranking German POWs by British military intelligence during WWII, and reading an interview with two men, one Israeli and one Palestinian, each of whom has lost a child to the conflict between their people, and who now work together for peace.
There is more but you get the idea. I was somewhat accidentally, and somewhat on purpose, studying how cultures navigate conflict. Conflict on a grand scale.
While letting all of this stew, I kept working on the new Cultivate pieces. I was a feeling a little blocked by some technical issues on the big ones, so I bought a pad of paper and filled it with 20 small backgrounds. Many of them are still pretty undeveloped.
It’s not like I need more of these backgrounds, but what I desperately needed was something very unprecious where I could relax and listen to what the paper wanted, because that’s how I get the energy I need for everything else.
Thankfully it worked and, rejuvenated, I tackled some of the larger ones again, adding details and also working out the people a bit more.
Here’s that a little closer.
A big part of my inspiration to create Cultivate came from my sense, heightened by time and parenthood, that although we might perceive ourselves as being a single entity, performing on life’s stage, we are actually inextricably connected to a host of ancestors, who led to our existence, and also connected to all those around us, who we are constantly influencing with our choices and actions. And vice versa.
I can’t help but think that in those times Mr. Zinn was referring to, when “people behaved magnificently,” that those people were seeing the world this way, as this infinite web, with no more “other,” only us.
I have to admit, I’m not always able to see it that way, but I am always trying.