The Potential of Optimism

In a 2017 Ipsos MORI detailed survey of 26,489 people across 28 countries, South Africans scored high in pessimism and low in their knowledge of actual facts they based their pessimism on.[1] Most South Africans can share personal stories of expressing and experiencing this pessimism.

Max Roser explains “This pessimism about what is possible for the world matters politically. Those who don’t expect that things get better in the first place will be less likely to demand actions that can bring positive developments about. The few optimists on the other hand will want to see the necessary changes for the improvements they are expecting.” [2]

There is a definite need for optimism in South Africa if we want to see some progress in our ongoing battles with inequality, poverty, gender-based violence and crime.

Jarette Petzer, founder of the #ImStaying Facebook Group, in an interview on Cape Talk on 2 October stated “It’s a group based on sentiment, ‘cause sentiment is very powerful. How you feel determines how you react to the world around you, and how you react to the world around you determines how things manifest.”

What if  #imstaying is potentially double edged – on the one hand it meets a need for changing the atmosphere we live in but on the other, it is a “moderated optimism” and therefore not real. It has received backlash for regulating posts and being denialist about the world most South Africans actually live in, another wave of rainbowism that does not make a difference.

What if this moderation of people’s posts leads them to internalise anger? Internalised anger often leads to illness, both physical and mental. Long-term, most internalised anger eventually builds up so much pressure that there is a delayed explosion – uncontrolled and with more co-lateral damage.

There are some other Facebook groups, like “Conversations for a just South Africa” where people are trying to have more uncomfortable conversations that represent where we currently find ourselves as a country. Here people are given an opportunity to express their anger.

But, let us dream a little …

What if there was a vital role for each of the diverse groups we see in the virtual world and they could appreciate each other, co-operate and refer people to each other instead of criticizing, blaming and shaming? What if they actually need each other? What if it was possible to be active in both groups, if participation in one inspired you and energised you to participate in the other?

What if involvement in either of these virtual groups could develop into a commitment to face-to-face dialogue where people really listen to understand the other side of the story? A physical encounter where people are willing to be uncomfortably challenged and grow from their discomfort, then combine it with their optimistic energy and change everyones’ space for the better.

What if …


[1] Chris Jackson (2017) – Global Perceptions of Development Progress: ‘Perils of Perceptions’ Research, published by Ipsos MORI, 18 September 2017.


[2] Max Roser



  1. This resonates with me. Our words have so much power – to destroy, or to build, and to determine our reality and, more subtly powerful, to influence the world around us. So for example, you could have couched your ‘dream’ in the words “If only …”, which is a dream without a call to action. Couching it in “What if …” makes a world of difference! Our words indeed have the power to make the world a different place.

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