The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.
William Arthur Ward
I don't know much about sailing. Or about William Arthur Ward for that matter. But I do love this quote. And I am very interested in the topic of optimism. What is it exactly? Is it something we are born with? Something we absorb as we navigate our days? Is it something we must choose, embrace, practice at?
I don't know.
But I do know that these questions matter to me. I do know that I want very much to be optimistic. More than that, I want very much not to be pessimistic. Last week, at T's Yale graduation, Bill Clinton was the Class Day speaker. And Slick Willy didn't disappoint. He charmed us all with his trademark mix of wit and wisdom. He implored the graduates - and all of us really - to get real about the big problems we face in this modern world. But one thing stuck with me in particular. Something about pessimism.
Clinton said, "Cynicism and pessimism are cop-outs. Excuses to take a dive. Self-fulfilling prophecies." And as he said these words, I sat there in my folding chair on good Old Campus, nodding. Nodding fiercely. I do not want to be a pessimist. I do not want to be a cynic.
But are these things up to me? Per Clinton, it seems they are.
Is optimism innate/inherited? Are each of us genetically or physiologically wired in such a way that we are more or less likely to see life's silver lining? Do we inherit our powers of positivity from our parents? Is it hard, if impossible, to transcend the levels of optimism we witnessed and absorbed growing up?
Is optimism contagious? Are we more likely to see the sunshine in our days when surrounded by others who are optimistic? [Once upon a time, a young (and super-cynical) girl who wore tons of black and whose default face was a bitchy scowl met a young (and shockingly-optimistic) boy who didn't care what he wore and was prone to smile. They met in a bar of all places! And days passed. And months. And years. Seven-ish years later, that same girl has two girls of her own and is much much more optimistic about life. And she wears color!]
Is optimism a choice? Whatever its source, can we choose to add more optimism to our selves and to our stories? Can we make efforts to alter the ways we see things and process them? Can we train ourselves to see sunshine instead of storms? Can we, with devotion and diligence, avoid Clinton's cop-outs of cynicism and pessimism?
Again, I don't know. But, hey, at least I'm asking, right?
Today, I would say I'm a realist. One who suffers soggy moments of cynicism and poisonous bouts of pessimism. But one who is committed to optimism. Optimistic about optimism.
Today, I am awake. Alert. Aware of the robust reality of existential wind. Poised for change. Even cruel change. Always adjusting the sails of my own expectations.
Because I must. We all must.
(How can I possibly look at this sunshine-soaked picture of my three creatures in the fountains outside the museum where I celebrated my wedding and be anything but optimistic?)
- Do you think optimism is a choice?
- Do you agree with President Clinton that pessimism and cynicism are self-fulfilling prophecies and cop-outs?
- Where do you fall on the optimism/pessimism/realism spectrum?
- Are you more or less positive about life and love than you used to be? What has affected your outlook?
- Are you suspicious (like I am) of people who seem optimistic all the time?
** Today is the very first day of the LIFE AFTER YES book club discussion over at Motherese. Click and come on by!**
** For a chance to win a signed copy of LIFE AFTER YES, please click over to BlogHer at Home and leave a comment! (Thanks, Nic!)**
Rumor has it that a certain something helps tremendously in the optimism department. That something? Book sales :)