I was struck in a recent double-episode Feel Better, Live More interview with Johann Hari with the particularly optimistic and positive way the episode entered and it felt like just the sort of thing that needed to be noted down:
One of the reasons I’m optimistic is that I’ve seen the most unbelievable transformation in my lifetime.
I’m forty years old, I’m gay. One of the people I think about all the time is a friend of mine called Andrew Sullivan, who a lot of your listeners will know. He’s an amazing writer and journalist based in the US.
In 1993 Andrew was diagnosed as HIV+; this is the height of the AIDS crisis and his best friend Patrick had just died. And it’s a death sentence as far as he knows. So he quit his job and went to a place called Provincetown in Cape Cod to die. And he decided he was going to do one last thing before he died. He was going to write a book about a completely crazy, utopian idea that no-one had ever heard of, and he’s like okay, I’m not going to live to see this, no-one alive now is going to see this but someone somewhere down the line might pick up this idea.
The idea he wrote the first ever book about was gay marriage.
When I get depressed, because we’re talking about these big things we’ve got to fight I try to imagine going back in time to 1993 to Andrew in Provincetown and saying to him ‘ok Andrew you’re not going to believe me twenty four years from now: but first thing: you’re going to be alive – he wouldn’t have believed that for a moment – secondly you’ll be married to a man; thirdly, I’ll be with you when the Supreme Court of the United States quotes this book you’re writing now in its judgement making it mandatory for every State in the United States to introduce gay marriage. And the next day you’ll be invited by the President of the United States to a White House that’ll be lit up in the colours of the rainbow flag to celebrate what you and so many other people have achieved (gay people and straight people who sided with us) oh, and by the way, that President who is going to invite you he’s going to be Black.’
Every aspect of that would have sounded like the most bonkers science fiction.
Andrew is alive, he saw that happen.
Everyone listening to your programme has lived through incredible transformations. The women listening to this don’t need me to mansplain this to them but my grandmothers when they got married weren’t even allowed to have bank accounts in their own name. We’ve lived through incredible transformations.
The main thing I would say is that we’re living in a moment when people are deeply pessimistic for all sorts of understandable reasons; if we’re broken up, if we’re taught to value the wrong things, if we’re humiliated all day at work it’s easy to get into a mode where you think ‘we are powerless’.
To anyone at all listening to this you are incredibly powerful. Ordinary people have changed the world time and time again. They don’t do it by sitting at home alone; they do it by joining up with other people. Together we can deal with the reasons why we have been made to feel so shit. These things were not ordained by nature. They weren’t like earthquakes. They were decisions that were made by human beings and we can un-do those decisions. We can build a much-better world for ourselves and our children. We don’t have to live like this. And you have the power with other people to change and challenge that.Uncovering the real causes of depression Part 2 Johann Hari interviewed by Dr Rangan Chatterjee 6 March 2019
This quote has been edited slightly for flow.