“The Lusitania is a monument to this optimism, to the hubris of the era. I love that, because where there is hubris, there is tragedy.”–journalist and non-fiction writer, Erik Larson
Although our times are trying and I’ve experienced some sadness during the last few months, I do what I can to put a positive spin on my life. I temper the optimism with a dash of wariness, and a fair amount of judicious caution. I recommend putting a damper on magical thinking and looking at the world without rose-colored glasses. A positive emotional outlook should be infused with rational, sober reality. If one’s attitude is meaningful, sincere, and realistic, the outcome is more likely to be good. Pollyannas, rainbows, and unicorns may yield warm fuzzies, but the results are likely to be superficial at best. Careful strategizing and boots on the ground bring out consistant result.
It’s possible for over-optimism to spill over into overconfidence and ego-stroking. Such thinking can lead to crashing let-downs and severe disappointments. There is a limit to how long a person can practice over-optimistic thinking before the risk of cynicism sets in. Having a chirpy, saccharine attitude is off-putting and does not feel genuine and solid. Measured optimism along with hard work are the ingredients of legendary success stories. Overnight sensations are extremely rare, hardcore success is the result of lots of practice and work.
My opinions on this matter were shaped in part by modernism and readings of existential philosophers. The premise being that it is imperative to gear up to face the honest truth and downplay the mushy optimism that is promoted by pop-psychology and romantics of the religious and secular persuasions. Studying political theory gave me samples of the corrupt advocacy of political dogmatists, revolutionaries, and the advertising industry.
Futurism has been one of my ongoing fascinations. In my youth, there was an unbridaled optimism about technology, weather modification, and Space travel. Books, magazines, movies, and documentaries filled the public with hopes for control and modification of the natural world. The Solar System was our oyster. Optimism was literally out of this world. There were great promises of liberty and equal civil rights for every person on Earth. Most of these improvements would come about more or less painlessly. Social justice was encouraged not ridiculed.
More recently, the unicorns and rainbows type of optimism that claims passive, complacent thinking will make life easier and better. All we have to do is relax and not worry about the problems of the world and everything will work out for the best. Meantime, the concept of dynamic optimism has become the dominant paradigm. That is–realistic expectations followed and reinforced by productive action. Such a mindset finds its advocates harboring fewer benign fantasies about themselves. They have a more realistic grasp of their actual knowledge and skillsets.
It’s popular to indulge in nostalgia and thinking that the past was wonderful. I do this too often, as well. While there are some things that are worth reviewing, such nostalgia is escapism. There is no auspicious fantasy of the past that will bring real benefit to humanity. I still cling to the ideal that the good guys will eventually prevail. However, they won’t succeed if they remain caught up in unrealistic optimism. The heroes have greater chances of coming out on top when they utilize measured optimism in their goal-planning and action.
For what they’re worth, these are just my opinions.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes actress and model, Mia Goth. “I don’t think optimism is always the best quality for an actor, in the same way you wouldn’t want a super-optimist to be a traffic controller–you want a guy who’s really worried about every plane in the sky!”
I hope the good guys prevail in Ukraine but think we are being too optimistic.
Something profound shifted when research began to show that fear motivates better than any other emotion… you can see almost the exact moment in time it was adopted in the advertising and political spheres: watching old political ads. Because it works so well it’s taken over too Lucy of our discourse. I’d love to hear your thoughts on fear as well as the dangers of optimism (which I found accurate and interesting).
Oh my goodness, where to begin is the question. Every demoguage, snake oil salesman, bully, etcetera has used fear to their advantage through the ages.