Out of Optimism, or Not?

"I am not a pessimist; to perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism." - Roberto Rossellini
Most people assume I'm a pessimist. Maybe you've come to the same conclusion after reading a few choice posts on this little blog of mine. I've been called a pessimist to my face more times than I care to count, by friends, associates and even mere acquaintances. I like to counter them by claiming that my level of optimism is such that I'm disappointed in my fellow man for not knowing better, having more common sense, behaving more responsibly, being more respectful of others, and so on. I don't think I'm either one of these -isms, though I can admit that I swing toward the side of pessimism. So what.

The way I see it, the total optimist creates unreasonably high expectations, inevitably leaving people unpleasantly surprised by the facts of reality. The pessimist, on the other hand, creates reasonably low expectations, which leave people pleasantly surprised when reality turns out better than originally expected. I'm more interested in coping and understanding the nature of things than I am in pretending and ignoring it. Not saying it's right for everyone, but it feels right for me.
"Optimism is the madness of insisting that all is well when we are miserable." - Voltaire
You know what makes me feel even more pessimistic? People who assume that pessimism (read: realism) is a bad thing. Not long ago I was asked - by someone I thought knew me better - to be an endless fountain of optimism. Spraying anyone nearby with a sticky-sweet outlook on an imaginary world where none of us really live. Rose-tinted glasses, even when I have perfect vision? All I can say is that I'll try; I'm not an optimistic person, and the very fabric of my personality is unlikely to do a complete U-turn. Only an optimist would think that possible, right?
"Optimism: The doctrine that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong... It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious." - Ambrose Bierce
If you're the type who has always experienced an optimistic world, I can understand why you're stuck there. It's a safe place to hide from reality. Pessimism works the same way. But, practically speaking, the pessimists may be more likely to survive in the long run. For example, see Dumb Little Man's 8 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Always Be An Optimist.
"Pessimism, when you get used to it, is just as agreeable as optimism." - Arnold Bennett
Do you think Dumb Little Man is a pessimist for posting that information? Or is he optimistic in the sense that he can help his fellow man lead a more fulfilling life through the sharing of this information? Post a comment and let me (and my handful of readers) know. Thanks.


Chris B. said...

I think the distinction (if I may paraphrase) is that pessimist does not equal negative thinker. It's less about positive vs. negative than realistic vs. unrealistic in your analogy, right?

I'm an incurable optimist/idealist. This is verified every time we do some Myers/Briggs personality testing at work. Therefore, I probably annoy the shit out of you. :)

PYLB said...

Heh. It's not that I don't like optimists per se. To your point, I dislike the assumption that someone like me should be labeled "pessimist" for having a realistic world view.

It's been a while since I took one of those personality tests, but I'm always an "experimenter" or "agent of change". Go figure.

PYLB said...

Of course, I'm assuming that my view of the world is indeed a realistic one. ;)