The Importance of Optimism

dragonfruitIn a recent post, I wrote about the importance of curiosity. Thomas Edison never would have gotten 1093 patents without a mountain of it. Another personality trait that I believe Edison must have had in abundance is optimism. I can’t speak for Edison’s day or his business colleagues, but I know more pessimists than optimists.

Pessimism is easier than optimism. The pessimist sees negative outcomes everywhere. The pessimist is a conspiracy theorist whose theories all involve a small but powerful terrorist group called the FDC: failure, disappointment, and compromise.

The pessimist romantic may still admire the beauty of every woman who walks through the door, but he doesn’t go talk to them because he knows that all women are the same and all romances lead to heartbreak.

The pessimist student studies less and less for each test because she believes she will make the same mediocre grade no matter how hard she tries.

The pessimist ex-believer watches people pray and pities their ignorance. Their pious words set his teeth on edge because he cannot separate their faith from his experience of a hypocritical pastor and a couple of judgmental, legalistic ex-friends.

God doesn’t hand out merit badges for predicting the future, yet many people still pride themselves in pointing out weaknesses, blowing the whistle on “naivete,” and asking “hard questions.” Somebody has to do it for these chumps, right?

That entrepreneurial friend who is making plans to open a coffeeshop? The Pessimist harps on the travails of the food service industry, including but not limited to long hours, unreliable employees, and low profit margins. “It’s a fun idea, but I just don’t want you to lose your shirt,” Pessimist says with a sad but subtly superior smile. You watch the light in your friend’s eyes fade. “Someone had to be honest with him,” Pessimist thinks.

That killing of innocents is a grim job, but Pessimist believes that he is more mature, more courageous, more noble even, because he helped a friend make a list of negative outcomes.

Pessimism generates a gravity that pulls everything down. It sucks other people and their plans into its orbit. The world is full of idiots, and idiots run the world, right? If it weren’t full of them, then Pessimist and his friends and family would be happier, more successful, more hopeful.

That’s the problem with pessimism: it leads to passivity. Passivity does not lead to significant work. Optimism leads to fruitfulness, and fruitfulness leads to significance.


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