The Optimist's Dilemma

January 02, 2011

Everybody’s heard the old idiom “Is the glass half full or half empty?” Probably too many times. I’m sick of it.

The problem is that pessimism is so much more acceptable. That’s where the news gets off on their reporting. “The bad stuff is easier to believe.”

Optimists, on the other hand, are perceived to have rose-colored glasses. The half full/half empty analogy splits the world into equal groups. Optimists spin positively and pessimists spin negatively (or realistically, some might say).

Half full optimists suffer from Barney Syndrome. You know Barney, “I love you, you love me, everything is fucking awesome.”

Everything is not awesome. And optimists of this type are dangerous. They over-promise and under-deliver. They are always amazed by everything, and so it’s impossible to tell what is really awesome in their view.

The other type of optimist knows there are issues. They don’t have rose-colored glasses. They know where the knots are in the wood, and they don’t care. They are excited by the world, by the possibilities, but they lack the skew of awesomeness. Because pessimism is so much more acceptable, well-reasoned optimism carries the burden of proof.

Optimists of this type are powerful. These are the Churchills of the world, those able to go from “failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

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