Zoom out

Man looking at night sky

The last few weeks of politics in the United States have felt particularly discouraging for me. Usually, I am able to take bad news in stride. I feel sad and then move on and try to do something productive. But Justice Kennedy’s retirement announcement felt like a punch in the gut that was harder to recover from. I found myself starting to spiral down into despair.

And so I had to zoom out.

Zooming out is one of the most important of the Radical Optimist’s tools. By zooming out, I place a current discouraging event in geographic, temporal, and if necessary cosmic perspective. I zoom out to a lens through which I can remind myself of the progress we’ve made, the progress we’re likely to make in the future, and all the things in the world there are to be grateful and in awe of.



  • Geographic – Zooming out to progress in other countries: Yes, the United States appears to be in rough shape right now, perhaps even permanent decline, but many nations around the world are flourishing. Poverty is at an all-time low. Perhaps our country’s demise will serve as a warning for other countries.
  • Temporal – Zooming out to the progress over time: Yes, this Supreme Court decision has set us back many years, but the broad trajectory of the United States is pointing towards more equality and justice for all. It may take a long time, and that is sad, but I believe that we will get there if people like me do the work.
  • Cosmic – Zooming out to all the possibility beyond humanity and even Earth: Yes, perhaps human society is caving in on itself. Perhaps humanity as we know it is over. But perhaps hundreds of thousands of years from now, another species will try again here on Earth. Perhaps they will succeed where we failed. And if we destroy the Earth, somewhere out there in the universe is a civilization that has taken a different decision than humans, one toward peace, justice, sustainability, and wonder.

The zoom out reminds us that while things may look bleak and beyond repair from our perspective, they never really are, not truly or universally. More often than not, we are simply clouded by negativity bias. We choose to focus on the bad, when there is good right in front of our noses. But even when there is good reason for despair for humans and for Earth, there’s never need to despair for the universe, the project of life that we as humans are just one small part of.

The project of life in this universe has revealed beauty and wonder the likes of which we can’t possibly comprehend. Life exists far beyond what we know here on Earth. And it is beautiful and will continue well after the last human and even Earth itself.

I find deep solace, joy, and motivation in that thought. And so can you. To get there, all you need to do is zoom out.


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Peter Schulte is the founder and editor of Kindling. Peter is also Senior Digital Engagement Associate for the Pacific Institute and the UN Global Compact's CEO Water Mandate, connecting businesses to sustainable water practices. Peter holds a B.S. in Conservation and Resource Studies and a B.A. in Comparative Literature from University of California, Berkeley, and an M.B.A. in Sustainable Systems from Pinchot University. He lives in Bellingham, WA with his partner Sara, child Owen, and cat Winnie.

    3 Comments

  1. Stephanie
    July 11, 2018
    Reply

    I think this is a helpful mechanism for coping with 2018 America, but I hope you can also recognize the privilege inherent in being able to practice this. It is more difficult to “zoom out” if you have to worry about ICE breaking up your family, your state making more cuts to your Medicaid insurance, or your ability to access safe and legal abortion. Thank you for writing this and for creating the kind of media outlet we so desperately need in these dark times.

    • Peter Schulte
      July 12, 2018

      Hi Stephanie,

      Absolutely. I am a particularly privileged person, and my writing often reflects that. I think of zooming out as a helpful coping/reframing strategy for some, and not realistic or even helpful for others. For those of us fortunate enough to not be in any immediate danger right now, I see real value in detaching from despair and hatred so that we might have more energy to drive real change. All too often, I see people who are paralyzed by these negative emotions and who think all is lost. But I would also never want to say anything that would suggest that people’s feelings of despair, fear, sadness, etc. are not legitimate.

      For those of us with the privilege of not being in personal danger right now, I think the dance is in both acknowledging and facing the severity of our problems today, while also holding the possibility for a better tomorrow.

      Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts!
      Peter

  2. Marcus Sheffer
    July 13, 2018
    Reply

    Zooming in helps too. Any change in perspective helps.

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