Every day may not be good, but there’s good in every day. Alice Morse Earle

At the end of Monty Python’s Life of Brian, one of the thieves being crucified encourages all of us to ‘always look at the bright side of life’. It is a naïve sort of optimism, reflecting the idea that if we just wait long enough, even the direst situation will improve and things will get better. He is Monty Python’s version of Voltaire’s Dr Pangloss – the overly optimistic character that our Literature students are reading about in Candide – who constantly argues that ‘all is for the best’ in this ‘best of all possible worlds’.

Optimism is one of our key values at Camberwell Grammar School, but our brand of optimism is a little more pragmatic than that. 

We have all learned that in life we will experience both positive and negative experiences. We will experience joy and pain, and sometimes those things are beyond our control. We need to develop resilience and have faith that things will improve. But just sitting back and waiting for things to improve is only wishful thinking. It is all very well to be optimistic that we will pass the next test, or just get better at sport or music, but unless we actually do something about those situations, our optimism may be ill-founded.

A more effective form of optimism involves a plan. In many situations we have it within our control to do something positive to make the outcome better. We can study hard for the test, we can work on specific skills in our music and our sport. In those cases we actually create some grounds for our optimism. And often the harder we work, the more optimistic we can be. 

Optimism is not just about always wishing for the best, it is believing that things can be better, and taking steps to make them better. Being an optimist does not mean that we cannot see the problems with the world, or that we feel upbeat all the time. Being an optimist is seeing what can be better, and working towards that end, it is about acknowledging times of sadness, and disappointment, but calling on ‘strength of heart and strength of mind’ to seek out the good even in those bad times. It is about believing that we can be agents of change and that our failings should not prevent us from accepting the next challenge. Optimism is also a state of mind which believes that people, at their essence, are good, and it encourages us to live up to the best version of ourselves we can be, and with Courage, another one of our values, it calls out behaviour which falls short of the mark, and encourages us all to nurture the ‘better angels of our nature’. In that sense the work of our School is at its heart optimistic: we hope to be an agent of change for a better world, and learning is the tool we use to expand minds and instil values.

Dr Paul Hicks