The word “Optimism”, according to the definition from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus, is the quality of being full of hope and emphasizing the good parts of a situation, or a belief that something good will happen. In general, it has positive connotations being an admirable quality of people that brings positive effects to one’s mental state. It is used to describe the tendency and ability of people who are in hard situations to be hopeful and looking at the good side of their own situations. For example, optimism is when a single mother believes she alone can still provide her children with a good life and works hard to do so, or when a student struggling in parts of a course recognizes his own ability in other parts of the course and believes that he can do better by working harder.
In We Refugees by Hannah Arendt, Optimism is given more layers. The optimism of refugees, or “newcomers” or “immigrants”, as they call themselves, is said to have “something wrong”. In the text, their optimism is needed for them to have a future, or a new life on a new land. For the Jews who were able to reach and survive on a foreign land, they had to forget the heaviness of their past and let go of their thoughts about the loss and deaths. The optimism allowed them to try to be a normal citizen once again. However, it also prevents them from recognizing and accepting their whole self. For those who still struggles to live, the optimism has also resisted them in fighting death and maintaining their wish to live. They optimistically and cheerfully imagine that “all the trouble he has been saved” after somebody dies and many of them wish that they could too end their troubles with the same act. This optimism has cause more suicides of the Jewish people, who were once the people who had the lowest suicide rate among all civilized nations. This optimism becomes a reflection of the deepest fears of the people, it is everything that they try to hide, forget, and erase from their life and memory. It is for them, the only way out in the reality they face.
I chose to discuss this word because I have always put optimism as a positive characteristic of myself. I choose to look at the brighter side of things and neglect the dark side, and I do this because I believe I can live happier this way. I used to think that optimism is a healthy quality that all people should try to embody in some way, but this reading shows me that for some people, optimism is the last solution that they could choose, when they do not even have a choice. If the refugees do not choose optimism, all they have and see is death, lost, despair, and hopelessness. They are forced by their situations to be the most optimistic people, finding more happiness in forgetting than remembering, seeing more hope in dying than living. However, at the same time they are giving away their defends, their forces, themselves, and allowing more and more problems to happen to them as their optimism prevents them from looking at the problems and fighting back. I guess what I want to ask about this optimism is whether it is still a positive quality in the situation of refugees or, do they even have a choice?
Works CitedArendt, Hannah. "We Refugees" Altogether Elsewhere: Writers o Exile. ed. Marc Robinson. 110-116. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1994. Cambridge English Dictionary Accessed 5 Jan 2018. dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/fluidity.
Again, another incredible post that shows an nuanced understanding of the text. The issue here is that Arendt identifies optimism as “performed” rather than based on a complete sense of self where a refugees is able to connect past, present and future. We need others to recognize that past sense of self to be truly optimistic that we can move into the future. This is a key concept if one is making art about the condition of being a refugee. One needs recognition of one’s whole narrative – what one was, the pain of the past as well as the pleasure of anticipating the future. Otherwise, the psyche cannot heal.