The uses of pessimism

The cost I pay for being distrustful of praise is that I come across as a pessimist. 

That makes me an odd person. The general tone of life in the Anglo-saxon world is optimistic. The monopoly on pessimism has been granted in perpetuity to the media. But it is optimism that keeps everyone going - you can always do it, you make new starts every day, you can change the world all the time. Even that great priestess of suffering, Simone Weil, knew that the basis of all our knowing, contra Descartes, was: I WILL, therefore I am!

Hence, my constantly being on my guard is too dark for most people. My explanation that this is only to guard against my overt optimism is not very convincing, at least to people who know me everyday. I have come to accept that I overcompensate perhaps, and it is time for me, at least occassionally, to pay heed to the bright side of life. 

If anything, though, it is the bright side that I am constantly enarmoured with. That I am still starting things, looking for the future, hoping to live a better life, is only because of that. Moreover, I am persisting with my search for a new model of higher education, despite the disappointing realities of for-profit life and the strange encounters with university bureaucracies, is proof, not just of my optimism but my undying faith. 

I am, therefore, one of those who wear a mask on the train but go to work everyday. Similarly, I choose to wear pessimism rather than making it my personality. The reason I do it is not because I think everything is meaningless, but to ward off the temptations of wrong incentives that inevitably come in the way of meaning. I do anticipate disappointments, but therefore, don't be disappointed when they come. I am constantly on my guard to not to succumb to flattery, but this only allows me to recognise affinity when it - rarely, for sure - arises. 

Perhaps this makes me a bore, unable to enjoy life, believe in the great festival of positivity. But I feel pessimism is grossly underappreciated, not just in terms of how valuable it is to keep one grounded, but also to see through what is real and what is not. We have, as some commentators put it, a sub-prime attention crisis, with all the noise cluttering what we think and clouding what we see: Pessimism is like that guiding beam of attention that keeps us sane and attentive.

In summary, then, pessimism is my way to attention, of giving respect, of participating in life. Even if it may not feel so, I feel more engaged when I am pessimistic, as I manage to cut through all the superficiality and come face-to-face with what makes life worthwhile: The unconditional love, the joy of an unanticipated moment, serendipity of ideas, brilliance of vision, true respect and consideration, and above all, the gift of attention.


Preceptor said…
On reading this post, I recalled some great team experiences when people tackled a problem using De Bono's Six Thinking Hats. As someone who is naturally optimistic, It took me some time to appreciate that people wearing a Black Hat were vital to the success of the group's solution. I have also found Six Thinking Hats a great way of dealing with family issues.

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