Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Folly of Optimism

Optimism is the folly of insisting all is well when it is not.

Several years ago, two optimists in south Chicago thought it would be a good idea to hold up a working-man's tavern on the North Side. In fact, they were so optimistic they only brought knives instead of guns.

All went well for the first ten seconds until the meeting broke up in the adjacent banquet room where scores of cops had been holding a retirement celebration for one of their fellow SWAT team members.

Before you could say "bad boys, bad boys, whatcha ya gonna do when they come for you," the two optimists were on their way to a large brick building, with a score of bumps and bruises, where they would spend the next few years waiting, optimistically, for a parole hearing.

And so it goes with optimists – expecting perfect outcomes and usually being disappointed.

Prisons are full of optimists; thugs who optimistically thought they could get away with it. But thugs who tend to be pessimistic assume they're going to get caught so they go out and get real jobs just like the rest of us.

Las Vegas is a monument to optimism. Pessimists gamble with the knowledge that the most likely outcome will be the loss of money therefore they often set limits and only lose what they can afford. But optimists will keep on betting no matter what, plunging further and further into debt, because they "know" they're going to win.

During Hurricane Katrina, residents of New Orleans were warned a massive storm was imminent and advised to leave the city. Pessimists (fearing the worst) vacated while optimists (expecting a positive outcome) decided to ride it out. In the aftermath, the pessimists who had stayed behind walked out in waist-deep water while the optimists sat on rooftops waiting to be picked up by others. Optimists are hopelessly helpless.

Optimism (the certainty of a positive outcome) should not be confused with positive attitude (a thought process that manifests internal strength in overcoming obstacles). Even a pessimist can have a positive attitude.

In the movie ROCKY, a boxing champion (an optimist) "knows" he can easily defeat his opponent (Rocky), a pessimist who is certain he will lose. The champion does little to prepare but Rocky adopts a positive attitude and trains hard. Realizing he has no chance to win, Rocky's goal is to survive all 12 rounds. Rocky happily achieves his goal because it's realistic. The optimistic champion is frustrated because it wasn't as easy as expected.

Optimists are self-indulgent fun-seekers driven by emotion. Their favorite activities are adventure, thrills, partying, shopping and gazing into mirrors. Famous optimists include General George Armstrong Custer, Amelia Earhart, Evil Knievel and mass murderers expecting 72 virgins in an afterlife.

Pessimists are cautious dullards driven by logic. Their favorite activities are staying home and mowing the lawn. Famous pessimists include Al Gore, Andy Rooney, Batman and the guy who invented the parachute.

As with everything else in life, there are various degrees of optimism and pessimism.

Optimistic optimists are spoiled, perky underachievers who expect good things to happen at all times. When expectations aren't met, they pout until someone gives them a treat. They're totally out of touch with reality and view non-perky others as inferior beings, completely unaware of how irritating their perkiness is to the rest of us.

Pessimistic optimists are wishful thinkers who want good things to happen but accept the imperfections of life. They hope for positive outcomes rather than working to make them happen and aren't too surprised when things go south. But as with all optimists, they can do no better than break even or be disappointed with results.

Optimistic pessimists are realists who hope for the best but understand it rarely occurs. They're aware we live in a harsh world, thus they anticipate negative possibilities and adjust to circumstances. Pessimists are survivors.

Pessimistic pessimists are the meek who will inherit the earth. They comprehend the necessity of suffering and embrace it. They view life as a series of obstacles to be overcome. Many of them write blogs.

Optimists believe we live in the best of all worlds -- pessimists fear this is true.

Optimists either reach their high expectations or are disappointed -- pessimists either match the worst possibility or are pleasantly surprised.

Optimism is unreasonable wishful thinking. Intent is what makes a person succeed regardless of expectations, even when facing defeat. It is intent, not optimism, that makes a person invulnerable.

If you want to go through life being disappointed, be an optimist. But try not to be too perky – it's irritating.

Quote for the Day – "Nothing in this world is a gift. Whatever must be learned must be learned the hard way." Carlos Castaneda (shaman)

Bret Burquest is an award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and where disappointment is never an option. His blogs appear on several websites, including

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