The Immaturity of Pessimism

Likely few people would outright classify themselves as pessimists, but they do exist. The decision to actively see the glass half-empty, or to unconsciously see the glass half-empty on a regular basis, is problematic. I mean, if you make a living as a bartender, then this is a very lucrative and optimistic way of thinking. But for everybody else, the glass half-empty mindset is impractical and, dare I say, quite immature.

Tales of Darkness & Despair

Let’s say you have a workplace (or class) that mandates using a certain software program to complete a regularly assigned type of task. The program is a glitch-ridden mess, and you are not even using the most current version, because the software was installed seven years ago. For argument’s sake, we’ll call this program Butt Ugly. New problems are discovered all the time, and every time, you and your colleagues moan, “Welp, Butt Ugly strikes again,” perhaps with a sarcastic smirk. Butt Ugly is so impractically awful that even your friends and family know all about it, because you have made a point to complain to them about it.

Consider a second scenario. You live in a dark, cramped apartment building. It is known for cheap rent and, on the third floor, cheap prostitution. Back when you moved in (hopefully for the cheap rent), you always held the door for anybody you recognized as living in the building. But nobody ever acknowledged or thanked you for doing this. Eventually, you just stopped holding the door for any of them, even that fiery vixen Amanda. If they couldn’t be bothered to care, then neither could you.

Here is one last scenario. Having some artistic talent, you decide out of high school and before college that you want to become a comic book artist, so you buy a bunch of how-to books and get to work drawing. Throughout college, you submit penciling samples to publishers big and small, but you are always met with rejection–or worse, total silence, by the largest publishers who do not have the time to respond to wannabes like you. Three years into school, you decide it was a fool’s errand to have ever tried to get published; only a few extremely talented geniuses ever make it, and you’re not one of them. You switch your major from art to business at the last second, but at least with a business degree, you’ll pay off those student loans eventually.

Hit the Bricks, Negative Nancy

Some scrutiny of the above tales of pessimism will help to unravel how much of a losing bet that pessimism actually is. For starters, in all three scenarios, a problem is identified. In the software scenario, being required to use Butt Ugly at all is the problem. In the apartment scenario, lack of acknowledgement for your consideration in holding the door is the problem. In the art scenario, an inability to develop skills to a professional level is the problem.

And that is where pessimism ends! Pessimism is capable of identifying a problem, but it does nothing to resolve a problem. Instead, as in the case of making sarcastic remarks about Butt Ugly, pessimism chooses to mock problems for existing at all. It is the equivalent of pointing at something and saying, “This sucks,” and then never revisiting the subject. Declaring, “This sucks,” is simply presumed to be a resolution in and of itself, with the resolution being: the given thing “sucks,” “suckage” is an irremovable defining quality of the thing, and it will forever exist in a state of “suck.”

Turning away from pessimism is a declaration that you believe something can exist in a state that is better than “suck.” Pessimism is a lazy, half-baked effort at activism, and literally nothing productive or useful has ever come of it, because by definition, pessimism is incapable of such things. Unless you are chained in a dungeon under the ocean by a race of super-intelligent (and super-vindictive) dolphins, there is almost always something you can do to improve a negative situation.

For instance, in the software scenario, it is obviously not within your power to demand the exile of Butt Ugly. It is however within your power to respectfully and articulately express your grievances to someone who does have actual authority, whether it is a boss, a boss’s supervisor, a professor, a faculty member, etc. If you can make a valid and thoughtful case for why the software is hurting productivity of the business/students, then you might persuade the person with authority to make a change. If you fail to be persuasive, at least you know you tried, and you can then make a decision whether it is worth it to take extraordinary action on the matter (e.g. quit, drop out, or set yourself on fire).

The other two scenarios do not even require you to take your problems up with other people. In the apartment scenario, if you consider holding the door to be a polite and moral act, then you should simply continue doing it, regardless of whether you ever receive acknowledgement for your politeness. To decide to stop doing something good just because no one is rewarding you for it reveals a much greater moral failing on your part.

And in the art scenario, the lazy aspect of pessimism rears its head even more. Granted, yes, it is true that it requires a very high level of competency to become a professional artist of any kind. There is nothing ignoble about a change in ambition, or a decision that your time and energy would be better spent on a different endeavor. But neither of those things really happened in my example. In this example, you quit out of pure frustration that three years of practice was not good enough, and you reason anyone who is good enough must be an inimitable wunderkind. This all belies the possibility that maybe your “three years of drawing” were not used very well. Maybe, in truth, you were only practicing once a week, if you had time. Maybe you were only trying to imitate the comics you liked instead of learning proper perspective and anatomy. Maybe you only ever sought feedback from friends instead of people with art knowledge who would have given you useful, honest criticism. In this sense, pessimism might be an incredibly lazy conclusion, and importantly a lie of a conclusion, that provides you a naive protection from your own failings.

You Liar, You Lazy Bones

Pessimism identifies a problem, but it stops short of doing anything to remedy it. It provides a convenient manner of making it seem like you want to take action, but it ensures that action will never occur. And worst of all, pessimism can be used to create the lie that you did everything you could to address a problem, when in actuality, you might not have done much at all. Thus, pessimism is the bastion of the lazy and the passive, nothing more than a security blanket for those who would prefer to sit idly by and wait for someone else to make things better. And as we all know, clutching your blanket is, like, totally immature.

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