Warning: This blog is under the influence of the Holy Spirit. (That's actually a blessing of course. I'm just trying to be fair to the skeptics.)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Getting Realistic About Pessimism

The other day I ran across this quote by Mark Twain that tickled my comfort bone:

“At fifty a man can be an ass without being an optimist but not an optimist without being as ass.”

This got me thinking about my naturally optimistic core where I walk out some very pessimistic considerations in action and deed.   
Is the light at the end of the tunnel an oncoming train? I often think it is. That is, until I’m confident I can see daylight and not hear the distinctive hum of a diesel electric motor or hear the high pitch of steel wheels grinding on track. I need proof in the darkness of uncertainty.

Do you need proof or do you walk the tracks with all the confidence of a an optimistic tunnel traveler?

Have you actually looked at a tunnel from the inside?

I think this way about tunnels. I do because trains run in them. There is little or no room to dodge tons of locomotive in such a confined space. Unless the train is a creeper, you’ll get blown under, a tragic victim of Bernoulli’s principle.
Does this mean I am being pessimistic to believe that only fast trains travel in tunnels?

Whoever designs tunnels must be optimistic anyway.  They must be. Engineers build tunnels and they are pretty smart people (for the most part.)  I find it hard to believe they never considered that I might one day want to take a stroll in a train tunnel. So, they must believe this:  If you do walk a tunneled track, no way will a train enter during your perambulation. Right? That’s optimism right?

On the other hand, I see a glass of water -or pick your favorite poison- as half full!

The proof is right before your eyes.  The only time I see it as half empty is when I loved the first half so much and learned we just ran out.  A good bourbon can have that effect. The same can be said of a glass of ice cold lemonade at a summer festival.

The pessimist might say life is full of disappointments. Yep, it is. Yet, dealing with those disappointments requires optimism. That’s a reality. Uh oh. Is that the foundation of the realist?
And where does this so-called realist fit in? Who is he/she? Is this the person who can’t seem to decide if the glass is half full or empty? Does he drink half and freeze the other half for a rainy day?  Does he even care?

Does this guy not walk in tunnels?

No. That can’t be right. That sounds pessimistic.

Who will live longer, the optimist or the pessimist? Pessimistically speaking, one would think the optimist would see the light of the golden years with greater verve and duration.

Of course, the pessimist would not only believe that, he would also expect to be wrong about his prediction eh? That’s pessimism right?
And, he would be right there too.  Or, wrong as the case may be.

A recent study from Germany has suggested that pessimistic people live longer. Yeah. They actually did a study on this. 40,000 Germans were studied between the ages of 18-96 from 1993 to 2003.

The pessimists lived longer. Go figure. It’s theorized this has something to do with the optimists being disappointed with their sunny expectations when they discovered the light they saw was actually riding on tracks. The pessimists were better prepared for the terror and managed to side step the steel juggernaut with greater effectiveness. (Or, maybe they didn’t walk in train tunnels thinking they would get bounced.)

Of course, one could question this, “Yeah but those are Germans.” But, Germans are historically optimistic. So, should we now be pessimistic about German optimism?
Should we be pessimistic about optimism in general? Is it overrated?

Worse yet, maybe this tells us we should be optimistic about pessimism. Is it underrated?
The optimist, in my opinion, is ebullient out of sheer terror of what might happen in the dark. The thought of facing it is just too much.  Smile. Lock down. Don’t worry.  “Everything is cool. OHHHHH SHIIIIII……” Thump!

The pessimist, in my opinion, sees things from the darker perspective, drawn from a blind kind of fatalism.  “It will all end terribly and I will most likely be wrong about that too.”  Paradoxically low expectations at least gives him a 50/50 chance of making it out alive.
The realist, on the other hand, is not necessarily resigned to a kind of fatalism. He’s resigned to the fact he is in a tunnel most of the time. He still sees the light. He is just looking for proof, wary of the bogus, the false light that might turn him into a meatball.

The realist also knows the virtues and joys (well mostly joys) of drinking fine beverages. He knows the glass will run dry eventually. He’s pessimistic in that way. He’s just optimistic about growing lemon trees.  
As wonky as this all sounds, maybe we should get optimistic about realism or at least we ought to consider being realistic about pessimism.

No comments:

Post a Comment