Tuesday, 5 April 2016

optimistic pessimism

I imagine that most people are familiar with the informal definition of optimists and pessimists: that an optimist would view a glass as half full, while a pessimist would consider the same glass to be half empty. However, I do wonder how many would give more than a cursory thought to this dichotomy, because if they did they would quickly realize that this a simplistic definition, possibly even an inaccurate or misleading representation of the two poles of what is in fact a continuum of attitudes towards a given situation.

Think about it. If an optimist assesses the glass in terms of its fullness, he or she is likely to be disappointed that it is only half full and not fuller, while a pessimist, who assesses the same glass and its contents in terms of its degree of emptiness, is likely to be pleased that there is still half a glassful remaining.

I was reminded of this question only the other morning, when Paula looked out of the window and remarked that she could see “half the hill”, referring to a prominent hill that we can see from our balcony (on a fine day). I felt bound to comment that this meant there was half the hill that we couldn’t see:

Notice that Paula’s comment was not so much an optimistic assertion as an idealistic one, while mine may have sounded pessimistic but was based on a realistic assessment of the situation. In fact, I would suggest that this is universally true: optimism is nothing more than another word for idealism, the mindset of the idle dreamer, while pessimism, although widely regarded as a negative attitude in popular culture, stems from a realistic appraisal of circumstances. Whether this is true as a general proposition, or I am simply trying to justify what others will deem unjustifiable, the weather was always more likely to deteriorate on that particular day than it was to improve, and guess who was correct:

In conclusion, I’d like to offer a contemporary take on the optimism/pessimism duality: an optimist is someone who hopes that Hillary Clinton will not win the US presidential election in November; a pessimist is someone who believes that Donald Trump will win that same election and become the next president of the United States.


  1. Ha ha ha, I like your take on this Dennis. To me, it's a bit like saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Half full or half empty? Most will say that I'm a pessimist, but I would say that I'm only stating things as they really are... Nice post again mate.

    1. Thanks Rum. Pessimism means never being disappointed.


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