Realizing the Powers of Optimism and Responsibility in 2023

A handful of years have passed since I set ablaze an effigy. Tis’ the season of Año Viejo in Ecuador, a cremation ceremony meant to signify purification and a goodbye to the past.  An opportunity to allow for regeneration in the coming year. Though undetermined exactly when this tradition began, the origins are likely a combination of religious, political, and sanitary factors. Here in the middle of the world along city sidewalks, three monigotes (rag dolls) dominate as representatives of 2022.  

A politician, a professional athlete, and a pandemic.

President Lasso, Lionel Messi, and the Coronavirus.

If I had my choice, we would be burning something to signify industrialization. More specifically, a schoolhouse to symbolize a quick goodbye to the crumbling educational systems of disempowerment we have accepted for far too long. However, as the broken system seemingly slowly decays, I consider the critical importance of optimism and responsibility.

A Vision of the Future

Joe Dispenza, a neuroscientist, researcher, and New York Times bestselling author imparts, “We are either defined by a vision of the future or the memories of the past.”  Though the close of a year results in reflection of the past 365 days, it is our “visioning” of the future that holds the greatest of powers.  What do we want? Accepting that the world is a very different place than when “school” was designed, it seems logical that learning is not the same as it was two hundred years ago.  Part of education’s “overhaul” must be empowerment and responsibility.  

The Phoenix awaits, as the old schoolhouses turn to ash. Yet, even if new beginnings are exciting, they are not always easy. Author Nicole Sobon’s advice is fitting, “Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.” I think to myself how letting go, surely would be a lot easier, if the thing we were letting go of was in a heap of ashes, especially considering how our species seemingly has a knack of rebounding back to old forms.  And 2023 requires more than a “form” focus. To reform or even transform may just not be sufficient. Instead, might we direct our energies towards the formation of new and creative pathways.  Paths laid down by learners themselves.  To do so, requires the empowerment, trust, and agency of students.  An approach unlike the traditional passive, inflexible, and hierarchical approach towards learning.

A Future Up For Grabs

This past semester I heard an array of excuses but documented six, indiscriminate of validity.

  1. “I was at  a swimming competition last weekend and was sick last week and this Monday.”
  2. “I was unwell this last week with a throat infection that paralyzed me in the neck. I was on antibiotics and I was unwell. I didn’t see the assignment.”
  3. “I might fall behind on some of the work. There is a family emergency and we’ve been quite busy traveling.” 
  4. “I was sick for 4 days and missed an additional day for an out of school activity.”
  5. I don’t know if you heard but there’s a tropical storm passing through and slowly turning into Category 1.”
  6. “I’m not sure what happened but I didn’t see any reply from my Zoom partner. We now have an issue with wifi and electricity in my neighborhood because one of the power stations was hit by lightning or something.”

Besides being enamored by the creativity, especially the one about “paralysis,” I found myself pondering the need to address one core competency in 2023 and beyond.  “Reflect on and take responsibility for your learning and that of others.”

Jared Diamond, a geographer, historian, anthropologist, and best-selling author maintains optimism, regarding our human abilities to solve the problems we have caused. Diamond cites how we should balance hope for the future with a need to be careful and in Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed writes, “The future is up for grabs, lying in our own hands.” World-renowned historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari shares a sentiment similar to Diamond’s. Optimism is evident in the dedication of his most recent book,  Unstoppable Us, Volume 1: How Humans Took Over the World, penned for middle school students.  “To all beings — those gone, those living and those still to come. Our ancestors made the world what it is. We can decide what the world will become.”   

Stop Making Excuses

Books like Harari’s have a message students need to hear. Tightly woven into the very fabric is a challenge for ingenuity and also an appeal to assume responsibility. No one speaks with greater passion about the urgency of responsibility than Jocko Willink, retired U.S. Navy SEAL officer and co-author of a #1 New York Times bestseller. A comment on Jocko’s YouTube TEDx video reads, “Jocko wasn’t born, he was tactically deployed.” Further, author Blake Stilwill described Willink’s intensity as an understatement. “Like calling Mount Everest “big” or Antarctica “cold.” Whatever the case, Jocko emboldens a new mindset. Ultimately centered on what he refers to as “extreme ownership.” “Once people stop making excuses. Stop blaming others and take ownership of everything in their lives, they are compelled to take action to solve their problems.” 

Seeing the Light Always

Simon Sinek’s outlook on optimism is not unlike Diamond or Harari’s. Sinek, a famed author and inspirational speaker has created a business out of optimism. He shares  how great leaders are optimists. “This is not the same as being positive. Positive is finding the light in the now; optimists see the light always,” says Sinek. Educators and parents alike surely see this light daily in children. Remaining optimistic ultimately is a choice, akin to making the choice to stop making excuses. Both require strident action. 

This is more exciting than enthralling. Almost alchemical!  To think of the power that might be realized in 2023, if we choose a path of greater responsibility and optimism.  

Leaping into 2023

Though a bit rainy this New Year’s eve, effigies still burn on many a street corner. Where I stand, the fully clothed rag doll packed with sawdust glows. The firelight however lessens as I stand transfixed by the flame.  Before being reduced to a pile of ash, I contemplate all that the new year may bring, but also what I may be able to bring to it!  Cognizant of responsibility and optimism’s omnipotence.

Tradition in Ecuador dictates how you can ensure happiness and prosperity in the coming year if you jump over the fire twelve times. For good measure I leap thirteen times.


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