Optimism and pessimism rule

I am fed up with all those messages about optimism on twitter. It’s like you have to be optimistic. I choose not to be. I am a realist. And I am fine with that. But it seems not done.  You are an optimist (and you’d better be!) or a pessimist. The glass is half full or half empty. The glass cannot be… “half”. One cannot look at it both ways.

Optimism versus pessimism, and realism.

Where is the realist was in his story?, I asked somebody.  I am getting frustrated about his absence. The answer came after a few seconds. Had I pushed a sensitive button?

“You certainly must be a pessimist hiding behind so-called ‘reality’… I know your kind…”

After this jumping to conclusions, my appetite to continue the conversation had gone.

In praise of pessimism

I let go of the topic until  @koenfucius tweeted about pessimism. Finally a different voice. @koenfucius tweeted something very interesting.

Sadly, pessimism gets a bad press. Because it is assumed to be the same as, or an inevitable aspect of, depression. As the happiest and most well-adjusted person I know is a devout pessimist, I find this idea ridiculous. My friend delights in life precisely because he expects nothing of it. If he happens upon something good or beautiful, then it is a bonus, a miracle. His days are full of discoveries and consolations. His sense of humor is hilarious. Mostly a knowing nod of recognition to bad news and false hopes. One of his favourite expressions is the typically vintage “Mustn’t grumble”. He is, I need hardly add, a joy to be with.

I love people who put optimism into perspective. They do not say all the time how wonderful everything is. I appreciate good doses of “low expectations” now and then. And I love it when a good sense of humour comes on top of all this. I would not dare to use the word cynicism.

Pressure

You can feel the pressure to be optimistic everywhere. This is certainly the case on social media. Look at the endless twitter feeds about the wonders of everything. Check the groups on facebook full of people gathering together to save the world and spread beauty by gathering together. This is not just irritating, it’s sinister.

But, for me, the most perverted story on optimism came in the form of a book on management. Barbara Ehrenreich’s “Smile or Die”: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World.

Although I live in Europe, I’ve read this book. I was glad the article provided by @koenfucius also refers to it. Specifically because Barbara finally “allows” one magic word that I have missed so far. You can find it in this quote, in bold and italics 😉

She points out that the neo-optimism to which we are now subjected is not, as many claim, some foundational American value. The US Declaration of Independence and the US constitution are neither pessimistic nor optimistic: they are realistic – above all, about human nature.

What a relief. My natural preference has finally been accepted by someone. Realism is part of the media vocabulary.

Realism in corporate Life

But is realism also part of corporate life ?

I know very cynical corporate leaders, who are not pessimistic at all. That does not make them optimists.
I know very positive corporate leaders, who are not… optimistic at all. That does not make them pessimists.
The corporate reality is much more nuanced than any school of optimism could be. And definitely when it tries to be on social media.

I think the following elements are crucial:

  • Corporate taboos:

    A taboo seems to exist around pessimism, also in companies. One is not allowed to be pessimistic publicly. One can imagine however what happens behind the screens, certainly in times of economic crisis. The more one feels the push towards collective positivism in public, the more one will embrace the “other side” in  private circumstances.

  • Bad will versus corporate good will:

    A realist on social media is confronted with a lot of bad will. Once you add a third party, you screw up the beautifully designed classification pessimist-optimist. Then you are no longer a friend in social media.

    Companies have more mercy. It’s not tolerable to be pessimistic. But everybody will understand and align with you when you say you have a realistic point of view on things. The positive people in the room may be irritated by not enough optimism. But instead of criticizing, they will help you in rephrasing some of your bullet points in more optimistic phrases. They will even do this during the meeting. We are a great team after all. Thank you guys!

  • Naivety:

    Let’s not be naive. As optimistic we want to be we’re all humans. And humans have the annoying habit to be human. Certainly when business, private life or both are under pressure. Then we will just be who we are. Nothing more, nothing less.
    Some will fall back on their natural optimism. I respect that if it’s authentic.
    Some fall back on their natural pessimism. I respect that too but that would be a pity.
    Some go back to realism. I respect that, if it’s true realism and not an undercover operation for hidden optimism or pessimism.

Integrity is the conclusion

Just be yourself. Try to be as positive as you can. Don’t overdo if it does not feel right.
Allow yourself to be realistic when you should, without the prejudice of pessimism.
Pessimism is realism’s worst enemy. But allow yourself to be pessimistic when you must. You’re human. Pessimism can be powerful. To feel the contrast with the other moods can be a great learning experience.

I could not believe my eyes. After so much “forced” optimism in my timeline, finally there was “another” voice. I totally concur with this quote from an article by Bryan Appleyard.

Realism: Pessimism’s worst Enemy.

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