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Debate on Optimism in Paris

Organised by IofC France

Monday, 25. January 2016

Debate evening on Optimism in Paris

On the evening of Wednesday 16 December, 25 people from all generations and a diverse mix of cultures met together in a café-bar at the CERISE Centre, near Chatelet, in the heart of Paris, to debate 'Can we stay positive in uncertain times?' The evening was organised together by IofC France and the Club d’Alembert, a club created by a youth group from Vélizy.

soiree sur l'optimisme I&C France ParisThe format of the meeting was based on the model of specific dialogue spaces from the programme Dialogue and Citizenship. The essential part of the evening was to allow exchanges in small groups around the questions, which in turn, invited each participant to contribute their own thoughts and experiences on the question of optimism.

At the outset, each participant was asked whether they considered themselves to be optimistic, pessimistic or between the two. A good majority declared themselves to be optimistic. Only one described themself as resolutely pessimistic. At the end of the evening, one or two participants returned to their first point of view, a sign that the exchanges were challenging enough for them to question their original position.

The participants were first invited to speak about the circumstances that had reinforced or contrarily shaken their optimism. The many participants who described themselves as optimistic regarding their capacity to live their life as they wished, were more pessimistic regarding society when the phrases 'the world in decline', or 'society in decline' were mentioned in the discussion. We live in an age where humanity is looking to find itself.

Among one of the central ideas that emerged was that any tests or obstacles that we do not overcome do not necessarily lead to pessimism. One participant even that he had given up on his great hopes and representations of life, based on the observation that our passage on earth is a test. However, the important thing is our will to act, to do our part, without worrying too much about the result, a reference to a picture of a hummingbird that brought a drop of water to put out the fire.

Does optimism depend on expected results? 'Optimism doesn't have to depend on results because it is better to not have any results than to not have done anything!' exclaimed one participant. Nevertheless, optimism is still linked to our estimation of ourselves. It can thus depend on success or failure, but also, many thought that the experiences that we live count for more than each success or failure. One participant called for a certain detachment so as to not get caught up by disappointments.

Does optimism depend on circumstances or those around us? There were many responses to this question. We came up with two main ideas: one, that it is difficult to stay optimistic when we shut ourselves away from others; and two, when we continually feel the weight of negative views from others regarding our origins or convictions, the confidence we have in ourselves and our optimism end up being affected.

Thus the importance of working within ourselves, to build ourselves up from the inside and not to depend too much on what is on the outside. 'Optimism is a state of mind' it was said, 'a force of the mind. Optimism is a sum of small things.'

One participant underlined the importance of not opposing optimism or pessimism, by rewarding the first and by considering pessimism as something necessarily negative. He who is a little pessimistic can demonstrate better listening skills and have more of an open mind than an optimist who is too full of certainties.

If pessimism of reason can be opposed to optimism of willpower, to borrow the words of an Italian politician quoted throughout the evening, we can conclude that is our gift of self and involvement that are the best foundations of optimism. The will to act and to be true to our beliefs, which became apparent in the majority of responses leads to an undaunted optimism where every one of us can make a difference.

Translation by Claire Shires