The Optimist, The Pessimist and the Realist
There are a lot of things that I write about that I don’t really spend much time talking about, and that’s fine. That’s the writer’s work, and of all the wonder I have had opportunity to experience in this life, ordering my thoughts and filling a blank page is one miracle I could not be me without. There are some things I mean to write about, and might even talk about a bit, that I have yet to take the time to write about.
When “The Screen, The Wax and The Water” turned up in my inbox a few blog posts ago, I was delighted. I had thought up the idea years back, remembered it, but didn’t recall having written it. It made me think of another idea I don’t think I ever wrote about, though it will inevitably end up in one of my books. Questions concerning perspective have always fascinated me.
This week I am hijacking my own blog and taking it where I feel like taking it. This is an old idea, and probably not one that is unique to my point of view despite my arriving at this conclusive train of logical thought on my own. That’s one of the wonderfully frustrating aspects of philosophy: if it makes sense, surely someone has thought of it. The philosopher’s job is not to present the truth as their own idea, but to offer a version of an eternal idea either stripped of dressings that have made other descriptions either vague or inauthentic; or dressed up in a way that makes sense to anyone who wants to make sense of it without crossing the line into personalizing truth.
I’ll call this one “The Optimist, The Pessimist and the Realist”, and you’ll see why. I like this idea because it starts from a premise most of us are familiar with and takes it to a level from which a whole new point of view can be extrapolated.
I used to be a classic pessimist. A little bit of self-analysis and practical field study showed me a number of things that made me uncomfortable in the restricting skin caused by my obsessively critical mind. First, I seemed to have a subconscious tendency to empty at least half of the full glasses I encountered so they would fit my narrow vision of how the world worked. I could catch people on the best of days and cause a disturbance that didn’t exist until I came along and then criticize them for being disturbed.
The next thing I discovered was that on the rare days I woke up not feeling crushed by my own weighty world of cynicism, I would hear the voices within begin to chant their “woe is me” mantras in the morning and watch my own spirit be crushed as the day wore on. Small realizations within these two larger realizations showed me that I was always either creating problems with my perception, seeking the problematic element in situations and then manifesting that element, or avoiding the situation altogether because of the potentially problematic element the gift of cynicism allowed me to see. Dismay that my pessimism had obviously caused all my problems drove me into the arms of optimism, the only other option I saw.
Optimism took awhile to reveal itself to me, much longer than pessimism. “It’s all good” was my mantra for a couple years there, and I made sure to say it in situations I was obviously capable of judging as not at all good with little or no mental effort. My viewpoint became centered around ignoring the bad obviously being created by my own continued practice of chopping life into little pieces and labeling some of them as good and some of them as bad. It was difficult to tell at times if I was saying “It’s all good” because I wanted it to be so although I knew it wasn’t or because I thought saying it often enough might make it so.
My optimism evolved to the point of me looking for a possible positive aspect to every person and situation I encountered as the encounter took place. It was a double-edged sword, though; and again I was looking for negative things I could ignore to the point of creating them for the purpose of the exercise. The pessimist has to empty a completely full glass at least a little bit to have something to be critical about. The optimist has to do the same thing, or they have nothing to be optimistic about; life is just good.
So I sat down with a glass of water one day. I drank half of it, then stared unasked questions at the simple complexity before me. “When my point of view is removed from your reality, what are you?” I asked quietly, because the walls were thin and my neighbors already looked at me like I might be a tad off.
I tried to see without looking, to observe without attachment. The water in the bottom half of the glass grew luminous as my vision hazed, and I felt gratitude for the miracle and the joys of water. I thought of how I need water desperately and drink it so casually, how my body utilizes it without any direction on my part. My mind wandered to what I was studying at the time: what basic needs actually are, whether they are unique to the individual; and if they must be met before happiness can manifest or if the pursuit of individual happiness is the actual answer to meeting specific individual needs.
It is generally agreed that there are at least three basic needs that must be met before character development or spiritual growth can be entertained or pursued. Without air to breathe, water to drink and food to eat, the individual is hard pressed to create or accumulate physical, mental or spiritual wealth.
My wandering eyes soon followed my wandering mind to the top half of the glass before me. I felt so stupid all of the sudden. It wasn’t empty, it was full of the number one element to human survival on this lovely little planet. I could empty the glass entirely of water, and the atmospheric conditions of my environment would rush to fill the space left behind with precious breathable air. How arrogant of me to try to assign positive or negative characteristics to manifestations of an intelligence that provides me constantly with something I both cannot see and cannot live without.
In reality, I recognized, every glass I have ever encountered has been full to overflow. The point of view that is able to see this clearly does so by neither seeking nor creating positive or negative situations or interpretations. This is simply a broader view of reality that can be applied to infinitely more models than the classic glass of water.
My new mind didn’t take long to see a great deal more from this point of view. Rather than compare my social or economic status with others, I could see that where I was and who I was happened to be right where I belonged. I had my own ladder to consciousness to ascend or descend or cling to in stagnation. It was a whole world unto itself, my world, and perceiving either good or bad seemed an insult to the beauty of a process that is always both constantly in flux and always expressing perfection.
The pessimist can ruin the best of relationships simply by having a bad attitude, the optimist can prolong the worst relationships by having a good attitude; both are subjugating their own happiness to a superficial philosophy, however. The realist can see clearly that some people aren’t able to provide the kind of attention that he or she prefers without the added burden of judging their actions as wrong or the people themselves as bad. This gives the realist the ability to be available to the people who can actually uplift them instead of prolonging their time with someone who can’t.
The pessimist can see endless disadvantages to being born into a wealthy family, just as the optimist can see opportunity in poverty. The realist must face the fact that all paths are valuable while most paths are not suited to the growth and happiness of the individual doing the looking. It doesn’t matter where the realist starts off; it matters where they go from there. Valuable personal resources emerge to the consciousness looking for what is there rather than trying to make the best of a bad situation or sabotage a good one. Then the options are endless and categorized only by preference rather than being dissected by judgement.
It’s an old saying that I think needs to be discarded or modified: “The optimist sees the glass as half full; the pessimist sees the glass as half empty.” Let’s listen to our brightest thinkers, whether you like science or spirituality, and all just agree that there is no such thing as a glass with one single mote of pure nothingness in it. They are all full of life, as is every situation and person you encounter in this Universe. Whether it is full of the kind of life you want to surround yourself with or not is the real question, and self-examination is where the answer inevitably lies. The optimist and pessimist must avoid this self-examination, as must any program running in the brain that was created by anyone other than the first-hand self in a period of intense clarity. Optimists and pessimists both ignore the big picture in favor of personalized perception; the realist works with a bigger canvas, more colors, and unlimited avenues to express creativity.