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The War on Optimism

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It’s a small, private war. I sometimes think I’m the only one fighting it.

I think the assumption that “everything will work out for the best” is delusional. Optimists ignore the things that are going poorly rather than dealing with them, so as to perpetuate their delusion.

Keep in mind that I hold the same sort of opinion of pessimism. Pessimists ignore what is going well, thus failing to build on success. I don’t fight a war on pessimism because most of Western culture already does that:

P: “Keep sailing toward that waterfall and we’ll all die!”
W: “Oh, stop being so negative!”

Each side has advantages. For example, optimists keep going in the face of adversity, and they therefore win more often; pessimists give up too soon. Pessimists tend to be right more often, and when they’re wrong they get to be pleasantly surprised rather than disappointed.

It’s fortunate for me, since I disagree with both, that they aren’t the only two available options. It’s possible to take the strengths from each while leaving their weaknesses behind. I’ve taken to calling it “paying attention,” but I’m sure there’s a more interesting label. Take this excerpt from John Morgan’s recent article, If It Could Only Be Like It Never Was:

Each time you pretend the dirty clothes aren’t there, the pile gets bigger until you have a dreaded mountain of clothes to wash. If you wash clothes every day, you’ll never have a pile bigger than your perceptions can handle. The same is true for life’s dirty clothes. They do exist and they need to be acknowledged. When we practice washing them on a regular basis, the quicker they wind up in the clean pile.

(Thanks for the tip to that article, T.)

My personal hero in this arena is my old friend Quentin Grady. Few have gone through, and responded thoroughly to, the adversity he’s faced while maintaining a determination to bring out the good in himself and in others. I aspire to be like him in that aspect, and I love the guy. In a manly, macho, we-play-on-the-same-rugby-team sort of way, of course.

So… hope for the best and prepare for the worst. Pray to God and row away from the rocks. Build on success and mitigate losses. You can choose both.

Written by Michael DeBusk

May 19th, 2008 at 12:34 pm

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