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May 27, 2019

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“When All the World’s Problems are Solved, is Optimism Still Necessary?”

Nathan Hurtig's essay first of 477 entries in state contest

Nathan Hurtig is an optimist in more ways than one.

The Ada High School junior’s essay on the theme of optimism was selected the best essay of 477 entries in a state essay contest held by the Ohio Optimist Club this spring.

“I wrote the essay in January, won the local club level in Kenton in February, learned I won the state level in March, and received the award in April at the Ohio District Conference in Dublin,” he said.

The Ada junior’s award was one of three presented in Columbus. His was in the essay division. Other awards were given to winners in an oratorical division and a division for students with hearing impediments.

In addition to having a writing skill, Nathan participates in several school music groups including high school band, jazz band, marching  and pep band.

He is also a member of the Ada High School quiz bowl team. Nathan is the son of Julie and Mike Hurtig of Ada.

His winning essay follows:

Optimism in an Optimized world
By Nathan Hurtig

Official Topic:
“When All the World’s Problems are Solved, is Optimism Still Necessary?”

    The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines optimism as “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome” (Merriam-Webster). Optimism can be a tricky subject, with some arguing that attitude trumps all other factors of a problem, and others warning that optimism can be a dangerous slope towards the underestimation of a problem and eventual failure. But no matter the opinion, it can’t be argued with that optimism is a powerful force that has changed the world forever. From the Great Pyramids of Giza to the Apollo 11 Mission, the drive to accomplish the nearly impossible has advanced humanity throughout the ages.

    But what will happen when humanity has nowhere left to advance? Can optimism, the voice that tells us to look at the best in a problem, still exist where there are no problems to look at? Picture this: a world without war, famine, disease, or poverty. Not just the big problems are gone, but the small ones are too. Your favorite sports team always wins, your next-door neighbor’s dog doesn’t start barking in the middle of the night, and your WiFi never slows down. Nothing in the world is wrong, and everything is perfect. There’s no need for focusing on the good over the bad simply because everything is good and nothing is bad.

    However, there’s one problem that paradoxically still exists in the world without them: a lack of purpose. Humans are problem solvers and also problem creators by nature. They will create their own problems, like puzzles and games, just to keep occupied. Humanity’s intelligence is what has brought them to where they are now. So, if humanity ever created a world without problems, that intelligence not only wouldn’t, but couldn’t be used. Widespread issues like depression and a lack of meaning in life would be sure to follow. In fact, a sharp increase in teen depression rates in first-world countries has been observed over the past 20 years. Many experts believe that this can be attributed to the lack of real-world problems children face at a young age, calling depression “to some extent an illness of affluence” (Kessler and Bromet). If depression is beginning to be caused by a lack of problems today, imagine what it would be like if problems were completely eliminated.

    So then how can humanity achieve a world without problems? To be honest, we can’t. However, a world with the least amount of problems can be made by adding just a pinch of challenge into a perfect world. Many writers of utopian novels have provided solutions to these problems, with Thomas More writing of special officials that assign tasks to members in society to prevent boredom in his book Utopia (More). The citizens in Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun look down upon idleness, shaming those who don’t keep themselves busy (Campanella).

    As a warning against utopias, numerous dystopian books describe an attempt to create a perfect world that eventually falls into a much less than ideal one. Lois Lowry’s The Giver is about a society that removed emotion in an effort to combat the flaws in humanity and therefore have nothing go wrong (Lowry). While there were no problems that the characters could see themselves, the society became emotionless and lifeless. In “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonnegut Jr., true equality is finally realized by handicapping everyone down to a low standard (Vonnegut). Inequality no longer exists, but with it individuality is lost and society cannot progress.

    The same principles from these and the many other dystopian novels can be applied to the pursuit of a world without problems: attempting to take away a core aspect of human nature, no matter what the intention, will only result in catastrophe. Therefore, denying the human need to solve problems by removing problems altogether can’t pragmatically be the answer for the most ideal world. So what is the perfect world, or more accurately, the most perfect world? And in that world, is optimism still necessary?

    I don’t believe there’s one sole answer to what the most ideal world is like. Goodness should not and can not be judged on how many problems something has. Instead, I think the most important factor is the perspective which one uses to view the world around them. That circles back to the definition of optimism: “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome” (Merriam-Webster). Whether someone lives in a dystopia, utopia, or somewhere in between, like the real world we live in right now, the number of problems doesn’t matter. It’s how we view those problems that can make the world perfect. Optimism isn’t just necessary in a world where all problems are solved. Optimism is also necessary to make one.

Works Cited

• Campanella, Tommaso. City of the Sun. Blurb, 2019.

• Coble, Eric, and Lois Lowry. The Giver. Dramatic Publishing Company, 2016.

• “Dictionary by Merriam-Webster: America's Most-Trusted Online Dictionary.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, www.merriam-webster.com/.

• Finkielsztein, Mariusz. “Boredom and Melancholy in Utopias and Dystopias.” More After More, edited by Ksenia Olkusz et al., Facta Ficta Research Centre, 2016, pp. 104–117.

• Kessler, Ronald C, and Evelyn J Bromet. “The Epidemiology of Depression Across Cultures.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, Mar. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/.

• More, Thomas, and H.V.S. Odgen. Utopia. Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1949.

• Vonnegut, Kurt. Harrison Bergeron. Mercury Press, 1961.