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  • Writer's pictureThe Mentorship Spot

Join the Possibilist Revolution

By Papiha Joharapurkar

What makes Gen Z’s different than members of other generations? Members of our highly controversial and discussed age-group receive a plethora of negative and uncalled-for representation within the media and a slew of stereotypes attached to their personhood before they are even inserted into meaningful interactions and discussion. There seems to be very minimal conversation encompassing the defining and exemplary attributes of this age-cohort.

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Interestingly, a generation’s cohort tends to be formidably shaped by the advances in technology surfacing as they’re coming of age. For Gen Z’s, most members possess little recollection and memories of the world before smartphones and computers came into existence. Hence, a large majority of our worldly perspectives and mind views have been constructed based on selectively-filtered and modulated outputs from external sources. Generational cohorts also tend to be influenced by the shadow of social issues and global crises developed within their formative years of growth. Our cohort’s growth has been shaped by the sheer frustrations fueled by the observance of countless disheartening incidents — situations spurred by the lack of adequate action assumed by those in positions of power and lack of urgency and witnessing little to no foreseeable action being taken to deter countless experiences of human inequality and strife. These developments are being shown to significantly impact our views of safety, trust and security. This ensuing pandemic is actually proving to be one of the most defining experiences within our lives that is expected to shape our worldview in similar ways as to how the Great Depression raised their youth to hold certain principles or values such as commanding an overall sense of distrust in economical and financial systems or striving for frugality-centred lifestyles.

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The Death of Optimism

A growing body of evidence is now indicating that global levels of economic, social and political optimism within the Gen Z (as well as the millennial) cohort to be at record low levels — this points to a growing sense of overall unsatisfaction being placed within our financial systems, economic, governmental or authority powers. Although Gen Z is more likely to maintain a liberal set of attitudes and are receptive and open to emerging social trends, being raised in the wake of these movements are now being shown to dampen our sense of optimism and hope for the future.

One of the largest multinational professional services network, Deloitte conducts a Millennial Survey on an annual basis to record and share their global respondent’s views on evolving threats and opportunities in our complex world. The survey takes several factors into account, including economic sentiments, personal finance, social and political situations, environment, business and governmental impacts on society, to compute a mood-score. These scores and reports are now indicating that feelings of pessimism are crazy high and on the rise — based on foreseeable prospects for political and social progress, concerns of safety, social equality, and environmental sustainability.

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Is Pessimism ever Helpful?

I can empathize with these statements and overall sentiments being circulated because for me, and for many others that I know to be of similar thinking, I had always maintained the view that it would be more constructive and practical to be a realist and maintain pessimistic views than to be an optimist and blindly trust that things would get better. At least by being aware of all these different scenarios playing out, I could gauge how I should be devoting my efforts and resources by considering the likelihood of the worst-case scenarios coming into effect.

I’ve been recently reflecting on my outlook, and it’s ensuing impacts on my mental health, state of mind and an overall general sense of being, and I’ve realized something. And it’s that the maintenance of my negative outlook is not conducive to living a life of purpose that aligns with my values. I’m beginning to realize that it might be more purposeful to instead intentionally choose to pursue a life of truth supported by fact-based information.

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The Rise of the Possibilist

Hans Rosling is the author of Factfulness, a book I read recently (Fun Fact: This is one of Bill Gates’ favourite reads and gave away free copies as a graduation gift for the Class of 2018). I think Rosling put it perfectly when he said

“People often call me an optimist, because I show them the enormous progress they didn’t know about. That makes me angry. I’m not an optimist. That makes me sound naive. I’m a very serious ‘possibilist’. That’s something I made up. It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful.”

Although I don’t intend for this article to become a book review, I was incredibly impressed and influenced by the framework provided to help readers derive the means to recognize and become cognizant of misconceptions and biases, which inform our thoughts and consequently, our actions. It’s important to note these thinking-shortcuts because they then influence how we see the world — which is often in a one-way, singular direction. It can be infinitely more valuable to instead possess a mind view that is supported by factual information regarding progress-development markers which can then help to determine how to dedicate one’s efforts and limited resources to further ambitions and goals in a variety of applicable areas and fields (i.e. investment decisions, research projects, healthcare and treatment decisions, policies and legislature, etc.)

Shirking from Responsibility

I can empathize with the anger that emerges from this lack of change and the frustration that arises from these non-shifting attitudes and perceptions spurred in the wake of countless incidents of needless human suffering. I understand how this uproar is natural and necessary to spark a movement, raise awareness, and incite change. But when this uproar dies down, or if a sense of hopelessness settles when there is a dawning realization that these injustice-fuelled uproars are not translating into roaring action, this sense of hope may subside, it’s absence enabling the materialization of a dismal, pessimistic outlook.

Maintaining the perspective that only apocalyptic and abysmal outcomes are to be expected will translate into triggering even less constructive change. When discussing the onslaught of turmoil and suffering that is warranted to surface alongside the imminent climate emergency, it’s not uncommon to hear others discrediting the futility of change that has been executed as yet on the grounds of insufficiency, and then concluding their sentiments with statements such as ‘I’m here for a good time, not a long time.’ We seem to take this declaration as an apology for our actions, and if our world is going to catch on fire regardless of the behaviours and actions and lifestyles we adopt, then is there even a point in trying? What infuriates me is that this perspective seems to have become an acceptable apology for our dismissal of responsibility and duty.

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To create lasting change in all matters of developmental progress, I instead choose to believe that it’s more imperative to remain humble and embrace possibility. To do so, I suppose you must be willing to take the courage to collect information that doesn’t fit in with your perception of the world and make an effort consistently to challenge your own thinking and re-construct your perspectives. This can entail examining the resources that you have available, scrutinizing the data and breaking down the narratives you have been provided to modulate your perception to power your efforts and goals.

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Change your Thinking

Although Factfulness mostly delves into discussing progress-development markers to provide data-supported information to support well-founded ideas around hope for human progress, certain thinking-shortcuts discussed within the book helped me immensely determine exactly how I should be modulating my thinking and these are some of my favourite takeaways:

  • Be mindful of the attention-filters you use to sift through information and stories you are provided. When the data are rendered in a way to portray a singular, carefully structured narrative complete with its own meticulously-designed headline, it can be misleading, especially when considering the necessity of these strides that have to be taken to compete with numerous platforms to capture our attention in our 24-hours news cycle economy. Contextualize the data, intake multiple sources, fact-check and then determine the causes in which resources ought to be devoted.

  • Acknowledge that a discrepancy exists between the level of progress we are currently positioned at (bad) and the certainty that things are improving (getting better). This is an important distinction that has to be made because there is undoubtedly a hesitancy in celebrating and rejoicing in the progression that has been made to reach this point. The celebration does not intend to mark the beginning of the end of the effort but instead, provides enlightening acknowledgements of the fruitfulness of the invested efforts and the grounds with which further change can be sparked.

In Australia, shark attacks are rare… when they do occur, they are heavily reported and broadcasted on a broad number of media platforms, making it seem as if these rare catastrophes are more commonplace than they are. Resources are then spent on fueling national debates on shark safety and the necessity to formulate stricter and harsher shark-capturing policies. According to the Australian Shark Attack File, only three people are reported to die from shark attacks each year in the country. Compare this number to a statistic published by the Australian government, which indicates that 1 woman is killed every 9 days in a family or domestic violence incident and 1 man every 29 days by a partner. I cannot contrast these deaths — they were all unfortunate and uncomparable in suffering and sorrow — but the numbers simply suggests that if we were to investigate the data in a contextual capacity, this could perhaps assist us within narrowing down the areas in which our resources (which are limited) can be invested in order of weighting to begin to improve our communities and societies.

It can feel challenging and unnerving to consider altering your perspective and the way you see the world. It continually requires taking in the input you receive from the world and investing time and energy to actively re-construct this input to align these narratives with the facets of reality. However, it’s more important now than ever to be a ‘possibilist’ — there is strife and doom and suffering and unpredictability and deep sorrow and grief in our world. Do take your time to heal and take a few steps away from the challenges of the day. And then when you’re up to it, take a few more steps forward and study your world so that you capture all the vital information you need to tackle these challenges instead of just information that acquiesces with your understanding of the world. The future does not have to be so dismal. But we do have to shift our focus from despair and gloom, unlearn helplessness, to envision and also construct a better, more just and righteous, sustainable world.

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