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The Pessimist and The Optimist

signpost reading Hope and Despair


With increasing levels of violence, the incredible and increasing gap of income between the rich and poor, the indifference towards climate change and much else besides, is there room to be generally optimistic? Does it make any sense to strive for something better? Isn’t it naive to feel optimistic?

I have good friends who are quick to remind me that things won’t change. They are in a good place, a safe place. More often than not, they are right. But perhaps we need to look at things differently.

I know fantastic social activists who really do make a difference in their work for various good causes. I admire them but it often feels like they are drops in the ocean. Sooner or later, they will experience burnout. As regards to the bigger picture, the powers-that-be will ignore them.

And it is the bigger picture that reinforces the reasons to be pessimistic. Take the migrant situation, for example. It started with wonderful images of goodwill and then was followed by ugly scenes of backlash. In the face of such difficulties, are you an optimist or a pessimist?

I am full of optimism…

I feel I have no choice but to be an optimist. My values are such that I wouldn’t feel comfortable in living in an environment where things could not improve. Yes, there are times when it will feel futile, but that’s when you need to reflect, re-centre and galvanise, before summoning the strength to go again.

How about this quote from Nelson Mandela:

“I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being an optimist is keeping one’s head pointed forward. There were many dark moments when my faith was sorely tested. But I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way leads [to] death and despair.”

And here is another one from the great man:

“Do not judge me by my successes. Judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up.”

Failure and success

George Mitchell, the lead negotiator that helped deliver the successful Northern Ireland peace agreement, said that he experienced 700 days of failure and just one day of success. Similarly, the nuclear agreement between the United States and Iran succeeded because, over time, a genuine trust emerged and there was a determined optimism on behalf the main negotiators. They succeeded despite the pessimistic predictions of almost all of all the experts.

There’s an old saying made famous by Thomas Edison that says: “Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.” In business and in life we need to recognise success is not always quick or easy.

This leads me to the concept of ‘resilience’. Resilience is defined as the “ability to recover quickly from difficulties”. Lise Ribero, in her blog about this subject, has written that “recognising the extent to which we are resilient is extremely helpful in moving ourselves forward and developing ourselves further”. It’s a good piece and well worth reading.

Resilience is how we survive. It is how we keep going and how we move forward. It is a basic ingredient to being optimistic.

The good news I have found is, holding on to being trusting and optimistic has allowed me to have many authentic and principled friends. It has also helped my facilitation and coaching work in enabling people to greatly develop their potential.

In the words of Rocky Balboa: “Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”

Being optimistic is sometimes hard and it’s sometimes fun – but for me it will always be a no-brainer. We have little choice but to be prisoners of hope, a group of individuals striving for positive change, who together can help deliver a brighter future.

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