Friday, July 24, 2009

My Respects to Miss Pollyanna

“Betwixt the optimist and pessimist the difference is droll; the optimist the doughnut sees, the pessimist the hole.”
“The pessimist sees the glass as half empty, the optimist sees it as half full.”

Those are the definitions of optimism and pessimism I hear bandied about most often. And if you define optimists and pessimists that way, optimism looks like the superior option. The only problem is, neither definition is true. Optimism and pessimism aren’t about the ability to appreciate what you have, but about an expectation of where you are headed.

So if seeing the glass half full isn’t optimism, what is it? I nominate the term ‘Pollyannaism.’ If you’re not familiar with Eleanor Porter's story, Pollyanna was a young orphan who played ‘the glad game.’ She not only found something to be glad of in every circumstance, but she saw beyond human failings and brought out the best in people. We have come to use the term “Pollyanna” as a negative: “an excessively or blindly optimistic person; also unreasonably or illogically optimistic: some pollyanna notions about world peace,” but Miss Polly deserves better, and so do we -- the world needs more people like her. Moreover, one can be a pessimist and still be a Pollyanna.

So I’m going to rewrite our lexicon. A Pollyanna is a person who sees the doughnut, not the hole. An optimist is one who thinks that despite all evidence to the contrary, everything will work out just fine. And a pessimist is one who believes that even though things appear to be going well, sh*t is bound to hit the fan. I try to be a realist – one who looks at where we are now, what we are doing, and where that is likely to take us. There are times when I come to the conclusion that everything will work out just fine, and there are times when it appears shit is going to hit the fan. But either way, I hope to take lessons from Pollyanna and appreciate what I have while I have it.

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