Recently, Yale University and the Library of Congress made 170,000 photographs of the Great Depression era available online to browse. As a lover of both history and photography, this is my ultimate jackpot. However, as I sat browsing through the infinite photos, I was surprised to find a very different depiction of the Great Depression than what I had expected. Obviously, I had expected, well, depressing photos - you know, puppy-eyed kids in dirty overalls and such. But to my delight, I found that the majority of the photos were filled with optimism and strength - children playing, groups of women in factories working together, friends swimming in rivers. They really are beautiful, you should take a look. But more important than the beauty of the photographs, is the message they send out: that no matter how bad it gets, a positive spirit and resilience in character will get you through.
Interlochen, Michigan. National music camp where 300 or more young musicians study symphonic music for eight weeks each summer. Girls waiting to catch large rubber ball, Arthur S. Siegel, August 1942
Could it be that we are our happiest in the toughest times? That when the going gets rough, we band together and find comfort in others? One of my favourite films is Silver Linings Playbook (not just because of the bipolar element). The overall message of the film, unsurprisingly, is that if you work your hardest, you have a shot at a silver lining. But more importantly, the film shows that with the support of others, you can recover from hardship.
I've often wondered if my depression is made worse as a result of the lack of hardship I've had in my life. My parents, both Iranian in origin, lived through a revolution, were exiled from their homeland, separated from all their loved ones, lost close family to the spoils of war, and had to start a whole new life in a country where they couldn't even speak the language. And yet, they remain strong, happy, grateful for what they have. Never once have I heard them complain about their fortune, or seen them give up on anything. I guess I'm lucky to have such great role models. But what this teaches us all, is that in the face of adversity, we have the resilience to survive.
So how did my parents do it? Community. The strength of the Iranian community in London always amazes me. The support they give each other - both emotionally and financially. For example, once my father found his feet, he immediately begun supporting others around him who hadn't yet done so, giving them work where he couldn't give them money. This can be said be said to be true of many different immigrant communities, who find solace in each other, but also of our wider community. The London riots are a great example of how we all came together to rebuild our local areas. Heck, even Kickstarter shows the kindness of strangers and the power we have in numbers.
So what does the Great Depression teach us about ourselves? That standing side by side, we can face any adversity that comes our way. That we really do have strength in numbers. And that there really is always a silver lining.