What is hope for the future worth in a year of struggle?

“2020 can’t get worse.”

We’ve all heard these words. What’s interesting about this phrase is that it first started as an optimistic sentiment following a series of unfortunate events. Australia was on fire. 2020 can’t get worse; it’s the start of a new year! Violent protests erupt amid the Black Lives Matter movement. 2020 can’t get worse; things will get better from here! 

However, as the year 2020 progressed, the phrase devolved from a statement used to promote positivity into a phrase acknowledging that 2020 would only be going downhill. By the time COVID-19 sent nations in panic and murder hornets arrived, “2020 can’t get worse” was laughably ironic in the way that 2020 can and does get worse. 

This phenomenon can be best described as ironic optimism. When we say “2020 can’t get worse,” we’re essentially stuck in our own self-conceived contradiction. We want all the wrongs of 2020 to be fixed, yet we’re silently understanding of the fact of the matter — 2020 can’t be fixed. The very fact that this contradiction exists only serves to reaffirm the notion that the optimism currently being expounded is ironic in character. When looking at the word “optimism,” what comes to mind revolves around the deliberate effort to spread positivity and to raise the conviction that a better future is arriving. How can positivity be spread when we all inherently know that the worst is yet to come? 

Modern-day optimism is weakly founded on the basis of solely looking at the best possible and oftentimes unrealistic outcome, rather than supporting optimistic ideals with changes that truly can happen. For optimism to genuinely be applicable, people need to consider not only the best outcome, but also take a realistic approach and consider other possible results. When people adopt a narrow perspective and delude themselves into thinking the best outcome is the only possible result, what oftentimes results is severe disappointment.

The fact of the matter is, optimism proves futile in light of negativity. In fact, when something negative is introduced, it oftentimes becomes a dominating factor in the way that people perceive things. The described case summarizes the mentality that people have adopted over 2020. Rather than being enthusiastic toward positive events in the year — an Academy Award for best picture being given to an international feature film, restaurants sharing secret recipes and automaker companies making ventilators for the pandemic — people instead focus on the negative side of things. California wildfires continue to burn across millions of acres. The COVID-19 pandemic persists, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives. Financial instability consequently results in food insecurities, which affects households across the nation. Why focus on the “positive” side of the world when they are more important issues to be addressed?

When met in the face of adversity, people should take a more holistic and realistic perspective in life. Even if being “holistic and realistic” leads people to become pessimists, having realistic expectations is far better than promoting a poorly-supported view. As 2020 concludes and 2021 approaches, it’s important to remember that saying “2021 will surely be better than 2020” to spread positivity is superficial in itself. Before saying the aforementioned phrase, we should consider the events that are likely to happen within 2021, and then proceed to determine whether 2021 will be better than 2020.

By Andrew Kim, Copy and Coverage Editor-in-chief
Photo courtesy of Jerry Marshall