Professor Joe Goldblatt
A close friend loves to reminisce and her sense of nostalgia, while charming, often fills me with remorse. Perhaps my remorse comes from the native Scots in my adopted homeland who have somewhat ritualised the art of greeting on Hogmanay (New Years eve). Greeting in the old Scots language is a slang word that means to cry. This past year, along with many others, I truly had much to greet about.
In the olden days, Scots regularly practiced first footing where they stepped over the threshold of their neighbour’s homes with gifts after the bells sounded at midnight to welcome together the new year. Last year, due to the risk of spreading infection, this ritual was not possible. However, I refuse to remain lost in the abyss of remorse or still greeting about the past. Instead, I prefer to keep one toe pointed to the past so as not to forget our past troubles and firmly point the other nine toes toward what I believe, based upon recent evidence, shall be a hopeful, happy and joyous future.
During the past ten months many of us have seen grave mental and physical health suffering and also lost family members and other loved ones due to the global pandemic. I have been regularly complaining to the BBC about the lack of respect being shown by their news readers when they announce the daily 300, 400 or 500 deaths that occurred in the past twenty four hours. I realise this is a small and perhaps unnoticeable matter for many other viewers, however I have simply requested that the news readers slow their delivery, lower their tone and add a brief pause after they announce the final number of deaths as a sign of respect for the dead and to provide comfort for those who are bereaved. Thus far I have seen a mixed response from my request, however, I live in hope that eventually this small request will be honoured and eventually change shall occur.
I also am gravely disappointed about the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. My disappointment, although it may seem minor to many who voted to remain, is in fact shared by millions of European citizens as well as my fellow Scottish citizens, who until today, were proud members of this family of nations. Scotland’s deep links with Europe span a millenia and cannot be severed by a flawed treaty. Therefore, despite the views that others may have about my minor inconsequential sadness, I have hope that just as our news readers may embrace compassion about the victims of Covid – 19, our citizens in Scotland will also seek a way forward to reunite with our brothers and sisters throughout Europe.
I suppose, part of the greeting process for Scots is also a way to cleanse our way toward a future hopefulness, happiness, and potentially enduring joy. I purposely define happiness as a transitory state that serves as a bridge between hopefulness and joy. Hopefulness to my way of thinking is often a catalyst for temporary happiness and this may, with practice, lead to an enduring joy about our future. Psychologists have described this theory as adaptive hope. Canadian psychologists Bailis and Chipperfield argue that hope and optimism are key hallmarks of good mental health and they further state that small differences in our thinking may make a large difference in adaptive outcomes. According to their research, people who feel invested in the future take better care of themselves in the present. They also tend to have a more positive outlook about their future.
In the past year my wife and I received news from many friends and family that they would soon become parents for the first time. I suppose the pandemic baby boom was in full force and I was filled with great admiration for these young parents who during highly uncertain times wereindeed helping create the future.
When they shared their happy news, it of course reminded us of our own experience of learning forty years ago that we would become parents for the first time. When my wife returned from the doctor with this news, I immediately rang him up and asked for a second opinion! We had very few resources to begin a family and even fewer prospects on the horitzon. The doctor listened to me and then politely said, “I think you two should take a walk together and then call me if you have any further questions.”
That is exactly what we did. We lived near the National Zoo in Washington, DC and decided that this would be our immediate destination. It was springtime and I recall seeing all of the newborn baby animals being cuddled by their mothers and then thinking to myself that we were witnessing and also experiencing new life which is the natural and normal cycle of human experience. And I also recall that with each successive step back toward our home I was more and more overjoyed with the prospect of becoming a father. The doctor did not receive a second call.
My immense joy came from the knowledge that whilst the future was uncertain, my wife and I were about to make a positive contribution to the overall future of our world. In fact, every new life is a new possibility to improve the planet and universe in many unfathonable ways.
In addition to the good news of these new births, we were also fortunate this past year to benefit from two new vaccines to immunize billions of people all over the world from the Corona – 19 virus. These vaccines were developed in record time through a global collaboration of scientists and government who set aside self interest and competition to ease suffering and promote the future of humanity. Therefore, the birth these new local children and their healthy development along with the rapid distribution of vaccines to attempt to bring an end to the scourge of this pandemic, are indeed two signs of great hope for 2021.
When my friends next regail me with their memories of the good old days, I shall indulge them briefly and then remind them that whilst I believe it is important to remember the past, I prefer to set my sights upon the future where I believe there is evidence from past experience to encourage us to once again adapt our thinking and warmly embrace hopefulness. And that might just lead to happiness and enduring joy as well.
Happy New Year!
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Queen Margaret University and practices adaptive hopefulness. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot