The Power of Hope
There's to much good stuff in this piece by Tim Wise to meaningfully excerpt. But, if I could summarize one of its main points, it would be that optimism works better than pessimism as a motivator. Simply put, when things look like they might get better, people get jazzed to try and make the promise real. But when it looks like they will get worse, people get discouraged and start to shut down.
Now, that isn't always the case. There are plenty of people out there who seem to thrive in the bad times, and God bless them for that (they keep the light shining in the dark). But I know that in my case, appeals to pessimism fail spectacularly. The last 8 years have been brutal for me when it comes to the desire to take positive action. There was a brief moment in 2003, during the Dean campaign, when hope inspired me to new heights of activism. But the rejection by the Democrats of Dean's message nearly destroyed my faith in the process.
Obama's campaign has restored some of that faith, but not enough to get me over the burnout I suffered after 2004. Fortunately for America it worked for a lot of other people. And it worked far better than the appeals to a darker view of humanity.
And that's really what gets me down. There's this idea among some that pushing the crap is the best way to motivate people. I suspect that this is because it is what motivates them. But, with the rare exception of the individuals noted above, people react to negative motivation with negative responses: apathy and despair. That doesn't help anyone.