I’m spending an awful lot of downtime right now, waiting on Peace Corps to decide that the paperwork is finished so that they can actually get around to taking care of me. So I’ve been doing odd things; most recently, I picked up a mandolin and have been spending hours learning how to play it. I’ll be a bluegrass star by the time I get back to South Africa, at this point. But I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking, about a million and one things. So first thought, for this post: I’ve been told by various people that I need to be more optimistic, often by people who seem downright offended that anyone take a negative view to things. And I’m kind of sick of it.
We all know the standard “glass half full/empty” scenario. And in such a scenario, it may very well be rational to take the glass to be half full. After all, one might as well be happy, all other things being equal.
But I, as a professional pessimist, don’t take the glass to be half empty. Other things are *not* equal. My claim, rather, is that the glass is darn well near gone. The optimist might claim that the glass is half full, or even entirely so. This is mere delusion. It is an emotional security blanket that might give her peace and comfort, but at the cost of her ability to actually engage the world as it is. Polyanna-ism is highly selfish.
Other optimists might rather say that we should be grateful for the water we have instead of cursing what we lack. As long as they also act on that latter knowledge, I guess that I have no serious quarrel with them; it is when they again wrap themselves up in “gratitude” to feel better while ignoring that lack that I have my concerns.
The pessimist claims that the world is actually in a bad spot. She does not merely say that it can be viewed as such, but rather that things are actually messed up. And recognition of this mess, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us, is a necessity to doing anything about it. She might be factually wrong. In that case, give her facts and evidence to show her otherwise. But to deride her for being negative and critical, as if such were in itself a vice instead of active engagement with the world, is to showcase one’s own emotional inability to cope rather than make any statement about the pessimist.
In the end, emotions don’t tell us about the world. They tell us about us. Feeling good, feeling bad, feeling something to be true or false, are mostly meaningless when we assume that they refer to something more than, well, how we feel. Which is not unimportant, and is ignored at one’s own peril; but to take them as our compass to the world would be like me saying to myself: I am madly in love with that woman, therefore we will be together one day. The fact that a view makes someone feel bad or out of place is not in the slightest bit a piece of evidence that such a view is wrong.
So please, I implore my readers, don’t put people down for pointing out the uncomfortable. Thank them for having the courage to do so, and honestly assess whether they might be correct. Challenge them in turn if necessary, but never let comfort and peace of mind seal you off from the world.
And speaking of being sealed off from the world, I’m still sitting here, playing music and writing blog entries, probably for at least another month (though who knows? It’s not like I’ve had any clue about what was going to happen the rest of this trip back). Send me messages and emails and music and, I don’t know, funny pictures or something.