I have tried hard to match my friends in their pessimism about the world (is it just my friends?), but I keep encountering people who, in spite of all the evidence of terrible things happening everywhere, give me hope. Especially young people, in whom the future rests~Howard Zinn

This bruising national election in the United States has shown us that people can exist side by side and have totally different visions of the world.   How we “frame” the world determines, to a large extent, what we pay attention to.  This is true, I believe, all around the world.

This post is an introduction to a new series called Moonbeams.  It comes with my invitation to people from around the globe–regardless of world view–to submit “flashes” of inspiration, hope, and understanding of others–especially those who do not share the same point of view.  The post can take the form of short bios of people who are making a difference, photos, cartoons, movie clips, videos, and essays.  Ideally, they should be short–no longer than 250 words.

Moonlight in Mexico. Shot with a Canon 70D.

Moonlight in Mexico. Shot with a Canon 70D.

My hope is that together we can penetrate the murkiness of divisive rhetoric and fear-mongering that defines our age.  My hope is that together we can create a virtual space that will startle us with its beauty, hope, and vision of what is possible.

My contribution this week is a short essay by the American historian Howard Zinn, who offered a surprising insight about staying hopeful and involved in “an awful world.”

How Zinn remained an optimist is based on his operating principle:  “Life is a gamble.”  What does he mean by this?  He states that we all are inclined to believe that the conditions that exist right now will continue into the future.  But, he reminds us that astonishing upsets have defined history.

He tells us that we need to remember that the “…sudden crumbling of institutions, …extraordinary changes in people’s thoughts, …unexpected eruptions of rebellion against tyrannies, …the quick collapse of system of power that seemed invincible” characterize history through the ages.

To his point, could any of us have predicted the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, the uprising in Tiananmen Square, and the Arab Spring?  These moments of unpredictability gave Zinn hope and were the underpinnings of his optimistic outlook.

An optimist isn’t necessarily a blithe, slightly sappy whistler in the dark of our time. To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.~Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn at his typewriter.

A child of immigrants, Howard Zinn was born in Brooklyn in 1922 and worked in shipyards and warehouses before earning a PhD in history from Columbia University.  He was a college professor at Spelman College and Boston University, a political activist, and author of  books and plays–the most famous of which is A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present (Harper Collins, 1980), which sold millions of copies.  Zinn died in 2010.

All quotes in this post are taken from Zinn’s extraordinary short essay “The Optimism of Uncertainty,” published in The Nation, September 2, 2004.  Read more about Zinn and his work here.


To submit a Moonbeam, email it to me in an attached file (.jpeg, .doc) at  With your submission, don’t forget to include a link to your blog–if you have one, and the original source of the material.



15 replies »

  1. Such well-stated truths in this post! As a lover of history, this quote resonates with me. “What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives.” ~Howard Zinn Keep up the excellent work on this blog, Patti. Your posts are so thoughtful and insightful. Marsha 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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