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THE OPTIMISTS - Emma Sharp Dalton-Brown

Writer

Sunday, November 11, 2018

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It seemed the right thing to do ahead of diving straight into the 'silly season', and in this time of incredible love and hate, confidence and fear, fake news and alternative truths, to hear shared voices of optimism. SO asked the question: What's your take on optimism?

While I was studying Philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science, I learned about Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716), a well-known scientist, mathematician and philosopher. Leibniz's doctrine proclaimed that this world is “the best of all possible worlds”. He believed that, while not every single part of what makes up our world is desirable, the world as a whole is. While some things aren't pleasing to me, the world is not made for me alone. “It is nevertheless made for us if we are wise: it will serve us if we use it for our service; we shall be happy in it if we wish to be.” (Leibniz's 'Theodicy', 1710)

I've lost count of the times I've been told, and I paraphrase here, “You're so positive and upbeat about everything, despite what you have to go through with your health,” or “You're so brave, having the courage to speak up against sexual abuse.” I'm a bit embarrassed as I don't think I've been hard-done by in this life. Sure, there are times when I am exasperated and worried, but I do not wish my experiences to be different, nor am I depressed about what I have endured. Like Leibniz, I believe this is the best of all possible worlds.

I was diagnosed with Behcet's Disease (BD) when I was 28 years old, 10 years later developing neurological deficits through consecutive Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs). While in hospital, I contracted a deadly blood infection, MSSA Bacteremia, and was treated with antibiotics every four hours for six weeks, via a central line in my chest. Before turning 42, I was diagnosed with another autoimmune illness, Diffused Scleroderma. Between 2003 and 2015, I was hospitalised umpteen times with intestinal and brain issues. During my first pregnancy, I went into preterm labour at 26 weeks. Luckily, my 'waters' didn't break until I was 36 weeks along and I gave birth to a baby who, despite spending the first nine days of his life in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), has gone on to thrive in this life. Unluckily, my placenta had torn, I haemorrhaged badly and was rushed into surgery. Best possible world? My life was saved. But what was to happen when I was expecting my second son? Do as Leibniz suggested 300 years ago: improve the individual parts of my world. In other words, with the knowledge I had about my medical conditions, I had to put myself in the safest possible position for the upcoming birth.

Throughout handling my medical problems, which are far from over, medicine has played a large role in keeping me alive and maintaining my quality of life. Leibniz believed science, mathematics, theology and philosophy could improve the human condition. He was optimistic that science would reveal the truth, which was worth obtaining for both moral and practical ends. He also believed in the collaboration of scientists, provided it is moral, and it is precisely the collaboration of my doctors (you scientists all know who you are!) that has kept me “forward-looking”, an essential part of Leibniz's, and my, optimism.

This optimism was almost destroyed on April 15, 2017, when I was sexually molested by a man I've known for most of my life. Stubbornly refusing to lose said optimism, I chose to speak up publicly that night. If scientists can fight disease, philosophers can fight immorality. Although I received support through social media and phone calls, the backlash I bore from some so-called friends was astonishing. I had to wonder where the world's morals had gone or if indeed the morals, which shunned misogyny, even existed for the average person. This event in my life occurred three months after I had started writing a novel about abuse, but six months before the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements came on the world's radar. These movements inspired women, and men, from across the globe, to stand up and speak up about their own experiences. These advocates validated my optimism and my mantra: “Every form of sexual harassment, molestation, abuse and assault is wrong; if you are not with me on this, then you are against me.” I had drawn a line in the sand and I was, and still am, optimistic about what that line stands for.

There are 7.2 billion people in this world, half of whom are women. The devastation that so many girls and women, some boys and men, have had to go through when it comes to every variation of sexual abuse, unites us all. The optimism lies in this: You've either been abused, or you haven't; you've either abused or you haven't; whichever case applies to you, you likely have an opinion or feeling about it. This fact binds each and every person to this issue. By default, we are collaborating and a moral conclusion is the only conducive option for a world that is “the best of all possible worlds,” a world that only has room for optimism.

I want to make mention of the paper, written by Marc E Bobro, THE OPTIMISTIC SCIENCE OF LEIBNIZ, in The New Atlantis, A Journal of Technology & Society - Spring 2014, from where I gathered pieces of information I'd forgotten from my studies at LSE (1995-1998).

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