Hope vs. Optimism: Patience Does Not Equal Change

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By Kevin P Rucker

I recently watched a film with friends that inspired me to write this article. The film was a documentary called “Race War”, about the conditions of race in our country and how historically strategic decisions have created the oppressive environment that people of color (namely black people) live in and are affected by both mentally and physically. In one particular scene in the film, Ajamu S. Baraka, a renowned political activist and the former Green Party nominee for Vice President (on the Presidential ticket with Presidential nominee Jill Stein) in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election made a statement that did not sit well with me, after having an in depth discussion with my most revered elder coincidentally just a few days earlier. Mr. Baraka near the end of the film stated that as a self proclaimed revolutionary, he was by very nature an optimist. According to what I had recently been made aware of, that statement was inaccurate.

In the conversation that I had with my elder, he asked myself and another valued associate of mine which was more beneficial to the cause and plight of our people, and which had the most potential to create change; hopeful people or optimistic people. As usual, as I have learned to do with elder, instead of actually attempting to answer a question he asked (unless I am absolutely sure I am right) I simply let him know that I have no idea what the answer is and that I am listening intently to know the answer. My elder proceeded to tell me that in a revolution, a revolutionary must be hopeful, not optimistic. While they both have something in common, namely faith, they differ in terms of their level of commitment. A hopeful person applies action to their faith, and actually works directly to make change possible. A optimistic person is faith that things will change, but is unwilling to help orchestrate that change, and prefers to spectate instead of participate. After hearing this comparison, I immediately agreed with him, since I was able to correlate this view with an example that validated this notion; the campaign of the 44th U.S. President, Barack Obama.

Barack Obama’s campaign was based in one fundamental concept, hope. It galvanized the entire black community, and also galvanized other ethnic groups that were inspired with hope to participate in the most historical presidency in U.S. history. That is the definition of revolutionary hope. Obama’s supporters did not idly sit by and wish for his win but do nothing to make that win possible, they knocked on doors, made phone calls, organized and attended rallies, and raised campaign funds to ensure Barack Obama’s success and his presidential win. According to Mr. Baraka, in relation to my elder’s definition, none of Obama’s supporters would have done any of those things and would have wished him the best, but would have quietly sat on the sidelines and contributed no assistance whatsoever.

Optimism breeds cowardice. I recently heard a saying that although made me laugh, explained the mentality of a coward; “the coward lives to tell how the brave died.” While objectively this view sounds sensible, for a revolutionary it is impossible. To sit by and watch another take action that you should be participating in is according to my elder the definition of optimism and beginning of cowardly behavior. Of course, if you are not concerned with being a revolutionary, and if you are content in your position and do not wish for absolute freedom for yourself, your loved ones, and your community as a whole, then by all means stand on the sideline and watch. If however, you crave an existence that allows you to be all you can be, and live with your loved ones in a community that respects your ambition, creativity and free minded attitudes collectively, you must participate that, it will never be given to you. Mr. Baraka has the right motive, but the wrong strategy to achieve it. At least according to my elder, which is my view as well.

My elder has another saying that I have started to incorporate into my life, which is “it is better to be kind to someone instead of nice, because being kind means being truthful, regardless of whether the other person wants to hear what they are being told or not”. My mother had a habit of doing this, in a “tough love “ sort of way. She was not one to mince words, and she never told you what you wanted to hear, only what you needed to hear. That was her way of caring, giving you information that helped your life, not nice words that made you feel better. I have grown not only to understand but appreciate that approach, and I have incorporated that into my life. Some may not feel comfortable with that, but I guess that requires a bit of hope.