Or How to Stay Optimistic in Grim Times

Bjørn Ihler
Dec 13, 2018 · 3 min read
King Théoden (ready to fight for his kingdom after Gandalf helped him out of a deep depression)

The Lord of the Rings has played a significant role in my life. The trilogy was among the first books not written for kids I ever read, making me fall in love with literature, worldbuilding, history and language. I grew up as the Peter Jackson movies were coming out, and my mum wanted me to read the books before she’d take me to the cinema to see the films.

Literature forms us whether it’s in the form of books, graphic novels, films, TV-series, blog posts or the news. It creates our frame of reference, the lens through which we view the world. The stories that occupy our minds as we grow shape us, how we act and interact with the world and with each other. It informs our outlook on all that happens to us and around us. It provides us with abstraction, and thus with ways to think about and comprehend complex matters. This is one of the reasons why I so firmly believe in the importance of libraries as a social equaliser.

Literature has the power to provide comfort in trying times and gives us the tools we need to deal with it.

We live in trying times. We face environmental disasters, the extinction of majestic creatures, wars and abuses against human rights. Authoritarianism and fear-driven hatred seem to be on the rise across the world. I face this every day as I travel around the globe to work with media, activists and policy-makers to build towards a better future. It’s not easy.

At times I feel overwhelmed like I’m standing up against a massive wave of negativity. I feel like I’m drowning in a flood of bad news. News of the deaths, imprisonment and persecution of friends and colleagues, of mass shootings and terrorist attacks, and of the political powers at play that utilises these events to exert even more authority over their people with blatant disregard for the human rights they stood for. At times I feel like giving up. At times I wonder if I have any impact, if there’s any purpose to keep on fighting for the good of this world. At times it’s easy to feel like giving up. At times like these, I remember Sam, who also touched upon the power of stories:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened?

But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.

But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back. Only they didn’t, because they were holding on to something…That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

And when Sam’s speech is not enough, there’s always the wise words of Aragorn speaking to a kid entering his first battle as tens of thousands of Uruk-hai surrounded them at Helm’s Deep.

There’s always hope.

I see a lot of defeatism around me — friends who are exhausted and on the verge of giving up. People who express their frustration at every turn. I understand them. I know where they are coming from. Still, we must learn to find joy in the small victories, even when they feel minuscule, even when they come too late, at too high a cost. We must remember to celebrate the stepping stones towards our broader goals, and we must not forget that there’s always hope.

Bjørn Ihler

Written by

Opinion Artist and Ninja Activist. Fighting polarization at scale.

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