Throughout our time in Washington D.C. we have interviewed a variety of leaders. Despite their diverse backgrounds, I found that they were surprisingly optimistic about the future. This was a refreshing contrast to my previous views on the world. I am very grateful to have been raised to view the world with criticality, but sometimes this has blinded me from the obvious light. Listening to some of our nation’s leaders talk about the world with hope and positivity made me realize how many blessings I was ignoring.
This first dawned on me during our interview with Layli Miller-Muro. We asked her if she believed people were motivated by self-interest, if that was how change had to occur. She responded simply and quickly. No hesitation. “No…People do not become martyrs out of self-interest.”
These words rang in my head the rest of the day. I never realized how cynical I had grown. At some point I decided that the human race was a selfish species; that nothing was ever truly done for any higher cause. I even wrote an essay in eighth grade, convinced my thesis was the correct one, arguing that there was no denying the human race was a selfish species. But Layli Miller-Muro caused me to think. How many good souls were being ignored by my generalization? How many heroes were being dismissed through my cynical assumption?
When we spoke to Susannah Shakow, this realization was only reinforced. We asked her about the film Miss Representation and if she believed in its indication that progress for women had slowed due to the media. Again, we encountered a swift, “No.” Ms. Shakow continued to explain, “I’m an optimistic person.” She then turned to the girls at the table and asked us directly if any of us had personally experienced a feeling of inequality in our lives. We shook our heads, no we hadn’t. I wonder, through all of the intellectual conversations on this topic, how could we not have asked ourselves this simple question? I couldn’t help but smile, thinking that the hope Layli Miller-Muro had instilled in my heart only a day before, was now being reinforced by Susannah Shakow’s simple remarks. A few days later we asked Alyse Nelson a similar question, and we received a response similar to her colleagues, “I’m an optimistic person.”
Republican Congressman David Dreier seconded this when he explained during our interview, “It might seem like I look at the world through rose-colored lenses…I am an optimist.” My smile grew wider with each repetition. We were discovering optimism on both sides of the aisle: republican and democrat alike.
This theme of optimism continued through to our interview with Congressman Loretta Sanchez. She provided another example of positivity and hope. We asked her about the American Dream, pointing out that there were many who believed it was disappearing. Her response was another immediate, yet genuine exclamation. She said that the American Dream had not disappeared. She urged us to look around us. It was everywhere. “You are living the American Dream,” she pronounced.
By Thursday, when we interviewed Congressmen Barney Frank, optimism was at the front of my thoughts. It was no longer a subconscious pondering. It was a conscious conversation within. We asked Congressmen Frank about progress in America. In his response he said, “I cannot think of very many things in America that were better ten years ago.” Congressmen Frank also explained the importance of action. Another theme we have heard time and time again this past week. He said that if we were passionate about anything in this world, we had a moral obligation to act on it.
I do not deny that there are issues in this world that need to be solved, and I do not pretend to say there aren’t things about the state of America that get my blood boiling, but I do say this: Washington D.C. is our nations heart. The heart pumps blood throughout the body; if the heart’s healthy, so is the body. There are many who say our government is corrupt. Perhaps it is. But from what I’ve seen and the people I’ve met, our country’s heart beats with positivity. The leaders I have met don’t simply talk about making a difference; they try to do it, every moment of their lives. This is why they have so much hope; they’ve worked for change and have overcome obstacles to get there. They’ve watched with their own eyes as hard work created reality.
If leaders of America can be optimistic about its future, then why can’t we, the citizens, do the same?