I once told my journalism professor about a touching TED talk I found, about how despite all the bad people we have in the world, there are actually a bunch of good things happening out there. He listened for a minute, before giving me a pity look.
“TED talks are great, but they’re just fluffy words. They’re all just inspirational, hopeful,” he said.
But isn’t inspiration and hope exactly what we need?
Aren’t fluffy idealistic words what trigger movements which led to the abolishment of slavery?
The revolution for democracy?
The protests for gender equality?
The demands for freedom of expression?
And the strikes for climate justice?
Isn’t inspiration what it takes to start questioning the current, and hope what it requires to go against it?
Many adults say young people are too idealistic, our heads in the clouds. Whether it was using journalism to share impactful stories, or striking to push climate action, many had told me I didn’t know any better. Over the years, I’ve learned that to be true—we the youth have little to no clue of how many struggles we can face, how much of failures we can feel, how many traitors we can meet or how defeated we can become.
But that doesn’t mean our unrealistic ambitions cannot come true. If Elon Musk believed that, he’d still be driving a Toyota. If the Wright Brothers believed that, they’d still be riding a horse.
I had looked up to my professor as a role model—but that day we talked, I figured I should go find a new one. One day, I met another journalist (coincidentally from the same newspaper my professor wrote for) and he asked me if I wanted to change the world.
Of course I did, that’s why I was there, I replied to him. “Don’t,” he said, “it’s hard changing the world. Go live a comfortable life.”
It’s almost as if these adults, somewhere along the way as they were growing up, they’ve forgotten how to dream. Like many, they’ve lost the light in their eyes. Perhaps they’ve read too much news or written too much of it. Perhaps they, too, were inspired to change the world when they were younger and they tried and tried, they failed and failed. So they lost all hope and bailed. And just because they didn’t succeed, maybe they thought we wouldn’t too.
Or maybe they just wanted to save us from disappointments. Both in journalism and climate activism, the more you study a problem in order to solve it, the more you realize how big it is. The more news you read, the more bad news you find. And so I stopped reading the news.
Right now I have this ideal vision of the future, where cities are filled with lush green and roads replaced with bike lanes, communities with their own organic vegetable gardens and streets lined up with fruit trees. This world where smiles are free and so are people, oceans are respected and the skies undivided. Somewhere love is an instinct, a place water comes not in bottles but flows in streams.
I know that battery technology for renewable energy is still a work in progress, that the world’s economic system is complex and so is global politics—but does it really hurt to dream? Was it harmful to aim for too high without the fear of falling? Is it dangerous to hope that we could miraculously reverse climate change and prevent the end of humanity, against all odds and the stupidity of our civilization?
I asked another grown-up who’s not so disappointing: “One has to be optimistic… Those who [take action] are often motivated by irrational idealism,” he said.
To keep myself sane as well as motivated in climate activism, irrational idealism with an awareness of reality is the way I’ve chosen to go about. Knowing you may never succeed, but also believing you can never fail either. Understanding the obstacles but choosing to focus on the opportunities. Because what’s the point of despair? Since we’d die either way, why live our lives worried about whether or not we could solve our climate and humanitarian crises? Why not just believe we can and try our best to? Why fear the one thing that can kill you, when you could hope for everything else that won’t?
Climate concern alone may cause panic, but with a sprinkle of hope, it becomes action. I grew up inspired by the TED Radio Hour, exactly the time it takes for my subway ride from home to school. A dose of fluffy words of hope every morning accumulated into restless thoughts of determination to make cool discoveries and lead revolutionary movements (and making it onto the TED stage).
Finally, one day after reading an article about Greta Thunberg, I was inspired to organize my first climate strike in Bangkok. At the time, I didn’t think I’d save our planet, but I thought it couldn’t hurt to think that I could. Eventually I managed to inspire one—myself. But soon enough, one turned to 10 and 10 turned to hundreds.
I still don’t think I could save our planet, but it couldn’t hurt to wish, to believe, to hope or to try.
This blog post is part of What Climate Activist Say <https://th.boell.org/en/what-climate-activists-say> published by Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Southeast Asia - 2020.