Thursday, May 28, 2009

What is an optimist?

I stumbled across Lawrence Shorter’s "The Optimist: One Man's Search for the Brighter Side of Life": upon checking out Brian Cormier’s blog. Brian writes from Moncton and has a weekly feature called “Hump Day” in the Moncton Times and Transcript. His postings are often very funny, insightful and make me nostalgic for my hometown.

Being an optimist is something that I have always wanted to be. But as a chronic "worrier", I have sometimes found it an immense challenge to not be anxious about the future. This is probably why I'm such a planning freak - it's much easier on the nerves to execute a plan than to improvise one.

So, is looking at life optimistically something that comes naturally to some people or does it involve an attitude adjustment? I want to be someone who can see a spark of light in the darkest situation. Is that being delusional?
The optimist fell from the top story of a skyscraper. As he passed the fourth story, he was overheard muttering:

"So far, so good!"

An interesting incident that Mr. Shorter relates is his encounter with Desmond Tutu whom he described as an optimist. Dr. Tutu very strongly rebuked this label and said that he is a "prisoner of hope". That if he had been an optimist, he would never have survived those years of imprisonment or apartheid.

One of the reasons that Mr. Shorter started this book in 2006 was that the world then, and even more so now, seemed very bleak. The media thrives on bad news, if we're not all going to die of a new virus (the bird flu then, the swine flu now), then our whole economy is collapsing. He, at that time, lived with his father, a very proud pessimist. I can relate, I live with someone who wears his cynicism like a crown. It makes for a dynamic and bipolar relationship.

I believe a typical pessimist views reality as "that's just the way things are and will always be", whereas, an optimist sees reality as what "is" but believes that he holds the power to change it for the better. A pessimist chooses to expect the worst so that he won't be disappointed when shit happens; a self fulfilling prophesy I would think.

I can accept that things suck at the moment, but if I didn't believe that they could improve, then as the Divine Miss M says: "Why Bother?"

Though I don't see myself as a "Cockeyed Optimist" - the whip-poor-will is after all becoming increasing rare; however, I do see myself as hopeful (most days, I think, well sometimes...).

Indulge my Babs moment with these two clips from her concert which speak of both optimism and hope.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the mention, Ray! Pessimism is definitely a self-fulfilling prophecy. :)


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