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"Football training starts in 45 minutes. How long before you have to leave then?" I shout to the 9-year-old. "In 35 minutes," he calls back, a little distracted.
"That sounds a bit too opt…" I bite my tongue. "It's unrealistic!" I shout triumphantly.
opt · im · ism [‑is´m] noun ~ en
• bright view of life
This is what it says in the Swedish Academy's dictionary, in direct translation. Optimism has nothing to do with being unrealistic and naive or having your head in the sand. It definitely has nothing to do with poor planning. Despite this, many people associate optimism with just this.
It is seldom perceived positively to be optimistic, paradoxically enough.
On the other hand, it is to be pessimistic. Many people associate pessimism with wisdom, seeing something others miss: a problem, risk, or danger.
Unlike the optimist, the pessimist sees the problems and is realistic, skeptical, and wise. The one with grim looks who bash everyone else at the meeting is respected.
But according to the Swedish dictionary, pessimism has nothing to do with this:
pess · im · ism [‑is´m] noun ~ a
• dark view of life
Pessimism is, undeservedly, associated with positive qualities.
Risk is not acceptable
So why has it become like this? Why do we often associate those with a bright view of life with negative characteristics while those with a dark view of life have positive ones?
There are several reasons. One is evolutionary. Expecting the worst and seeing risk and darkness, even where it does not exist, has been a survival strategy. But the risks we have today can, of course, not be compared with those on the savannah 100,000 years ago.
From an evolutionary perspective, the risks have in an extremely short time become minimal. The problem is that our Stone Age brains have not kept up.
Instead, risk aversion is going haywire among compulsory helmets, reflective vests, bans, and insurance up to the teeth.
Risk is not acceptable.
"You cease to be afraid when you cease to hope," Seneca said. Risk nothing. Never try, never fail. This is what a pessimist does, and in a context where the deepest risk aversion prevails, it is something that is rewarded. In addition, it is convenient.
What optimism really means
But Seneca also said, "Men can be divided into two groups: one that goes ahead and achieves something, and one that comes after and criticizes."
Doing something, coming up with an idea, and trying to implement it, is risky. You can be criticized and fail. Doing something requires courage, a belief that you can do it and that the conditions are there. You must have a bright view of life, and here lies a conflict with risk aversion.
An optimist risks a lot, which is the opposite of what a pessimist does.
This is the true meaning of being optimistic:
- To be brave and hopeful
- Dare to take risks and fail
- Have a bright outlook on life and believe that you can contribute to it yourself
All major innovations and breakthroughs in the world are based on this way of thinking.
So, what would happen if more people thought like this? If we called out that Stone Age brain and broke with the exaggerated risk aversion? If, instead of paying homage, we bashed the one at the meeting who only bashed others?
What if more people realized that what the ostrich actually does with its head in the sand is to see darkness.
It takes optimism to put your neck out and see the light.
The pessimist is the ostrich with his head in the sand.