Optimism is not an eye disease


My local bookshop has a new sign in the window – “Please note; the post-apocalyptical fiction section has been moved to current affairs.” It’s hard to disagree. What with burning rainforests; Alabama rolling back abortion rights; Trump trumpeting his ‘alternative facts’ ; Putin’s posturing and Kim jong un and macho co, strutting around the world stage metaphorically comparing the size of their appendages in the shape of nuclear missiles…oh and not to forget – Brexit, pursued by bear – it’s hard not to think that ‘optimism’ is an ocular ailment.

But it’s important not to become Eyore-esque, because new research proves that optimists live longer than pessimists. Yep. Apparently, optimism lowers blood pressure and boosts your immune system which increases longevity.

And, despite the deluge of doom and gloom courtesy of the 24 hour news cycle, it helps to remember that there are many reasons to be cheerful. The world is getting better not worse. Child mortality rates, oil spills, HIV infections and deaths in war or from natural disaster all are plummeting. Cereal yields have almost trebled since the 1960’s. A majority of humanity (56%) now lives in democracies, compared with just 1% a century ago. About 88% of us enjoy access to clean water, while, thanks to a relaxation of censorship, also able to indulge a dirtier mind.

Yes, terrible things are still happening, and 1 bn people survive on around $1 a day, but the miraculous march of human progress is nonetheless, a reality.

Aussies are world-famous for our upbeat, ‘no worries’, can-do positivity. I think it’s due to our inauspicious beginnings as inmates in the world’s biggest open prison. The dregs of British society, including my own rellos, were exported to the other side of the world, with limbo-low hopes of survival. But, while this exile to Social Siberia should have been a disaster, what this unique experiment that became Australia proves, is that unshackled from the class system, and with the oxygen of optimism and opportunity, people thrived.

The future generations which sprung from these scrapings off the bottom of the biological barrel, pioneered much social justice, including universal suffrage and votes for women. My favourite example of an optimistic Aussie go-getter, was Vida Goldstein. Vida, the Edwardian Germaine Greer, was instrumental in winning women both the right to vote and stand in federal elections, way back in 1902, two decades before Britain. (Though shamefully not all got the right to vote, with indigenous women being left out in in the electoral cold.)

These resilient and buoyant Aussie suffragettes actually played a huge role in the fight to win British women the vote. In the struggle for emancipation, Goldstein was the visionary Emeline Pankhurst turned to for advice on how to lift the spirits of demoralized British campaigners. Charismatic and clever Vida, whose wit sharp was enough to survive any ‘close shave’, was invited in 1911 to address all the major British suffragette rallies. More than 10,000 people flocked to hear this rockstar in a ruffled bodice, lecture at the Albert Hall.

Not to forget Muriel Matters. This cheeky, aptly-named South Australian suffragette became the first woman to speak in the British parliament in 1906 by chaining herself to an iron grille in the ladies gallery of the House of Commons, pressing her nose to it and shouting: ‘The women of England demand the vote. For too long we have been kept behind this grille.”

The police couldn’t remove the chains quickly enough, so they unscrewed the grille and by doing so, placed her on the floor of the House … Which is why Muriel was able to claim the honour of being the first woman to speak in the House of Commons. Whenever I’m in Adelaide, I make a pilgrimage to see this over-wrought-iron monument to optimism, which is on display in their parliament.

Over a 100 year later, it’s still women who prove to be our greatest source of global optimism, as they help to heal the planet. When feeling deflated, it’s young female activists who raise my spirits – like 15 year old environmentalist Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Allaa Salah, who stood up against oppression in Pakistan and Sudan and Emma Gonzalez, who survived the Florida Stoneman Douglas High school shooting and is now taking aim at the gun lobby by shooting from the lip.

So, pessimists, take my advice. When you’re looking at your glass, choose the half full option by simply remembering – if you laugh, the world laughs with you; but if you cry – you get salt in your champers.

And if you want to raise your spirits, then do come along and have a few laughs at my little Girls’ Night Out show, in Sydney on November 1st and Melbourne on the 4th.

See you there for some fun and frivolity!

Date: Friday, 1 November 2019 @ 8:00pm
Venue:  Seymour Centre
Tickets: Click here or call Seymour Centre Box Office 9351 7940

Date: Monday, 4 November 2019 @ 8:00pm
Venue: Athenaeum Theatre
Tickets:  Click here or call Ticketek 132 849

Tickets and more information here.

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