You know I am but I will write at length anyway 🙂
Whenever I meet someone I will work with or spend time with, I quickly get a sense of their world view. Are they happy or grumpy? Perky or subdued? Cautious or daring? Open or resistant to change? Eventually I end up categorizing everyone as an optimist or a pessimist.
Optimists expect favourable outcomes, and pessimists expect unfavourable outcomes.
I always find it funny when I overhear a discussion about it. People I label as pessimists always say “I’m not a pessimist, I’m a realist.” To me this implies that if you face reality, you will be disappointed – thereby confirming they are pessimists!
Meanwhile, we optimists are accused of being Pollyannas who refuse to face reality.
Taken to its logical conclusion, life is suffering and ends in death, so optimism is unfounded.
When something “of concern” happens, optimists say things like:
- It will all work out
- It will blow over
- Let’s look on the bright side
Pessimists say things like:
- It figures
- I could have told you
- Nothing good will come of it
In both cases, they’re generalizing about their own experiences and projecting them into the future. I find it interesting that when someone gives an opinion of a future event, they rarely encourage anyone to take action:
“We lost the Smith account.”
- Optimist: Oh, too bad. It will all work out in the long run, though.
- Pessimist: I could have told you that would happen.
Why not, “I’m going to call Chris right this minute and see if I can change her mind” or “Let’s meet now to discuss changes in how we pursue the Nguyen account.”
I am action-oriented and solutions-oriented in that way, which I think makes me an optimist and a realist. It’s not always helpful, though. If a friend tells me their mom has cancer, the first words out of my mouth might be, “Oh, what’s happening treatment-wise?” rather than saying, “Oh, I’m so sorry” and just being present.
It comes down to the reason for the conversation. A lot of the time, we talk to reassure each other, or simply reflect back what someone has said.
“I didn’t get the job.”
- Pessimist: It figures. You know they only hire their golf buddies.
- Optimist: Don’t worry. You’re the perfect candidate for the posting that’s up now.
Isn’t it funny that either one of those might make us feel better? Some people feel best being motivated, while others feel best when someone commiserates with them!
When we’re trying to make a decision or create a plan, it’s always appropriate to consider positive and negative outcomes. In fact, it’s irresponsible not to. Every project needs its SWOT analysis! Here, pessimists can shine as “devil’s advocates,” putting forth worst-case scenarios. What would disaster planning be without them?
Our world view comes from our culture, our family, and our life experiences. There’s even an old world / new world split between fate and self-determination. How much influence do you have over what happens to you? Is it all part of a master plan? Did your upbringing make success impossible for you? Did you try your best and get beaten down over and over? Are you just plain lucky? Did you work hard and it paid off? Do you keep bouncing back no matter what?
My life experiences have shown me that whenever I get knocked down, I get right back up again. I know I project that onto others and assume the same of them – or think that’s how they should be. That makes me a judgmental optimist!
No matter where we are on the half-full/half-empty spectrum, I hope we can all be both realists and idealists when it counts.
- In an emergency, I want to see (or make) a plan spring into action – I don’t want to listen to opposing factions say “We’re doomed” or “We’ll all just wait to be saved.”
- When time is abundant (the deadline is six months away), there’s plenty of time to work through the doomsday scenarios AND to put our rose-coloured glasses on.
- But mostly we just want to comfort each other in the way that comes most naturally to us.
Do you like to give/get pep talks or have a good grumble? What do you think made you an optimist or a pessimist?