Is pessimism a moral issue? I am honestly not sure. I think it is a character issue, however, and for today, for me, that’s close enough.
Why do I want to talk about it? Because “Failure Friday” is where we discuss our character defects – a sort of secular confessional we hope is good for our personal growth, if not our souls. And, if we are doing our jobs right, these ‘confessions’ will resonate, at least a little, with you who so kindly read this blog.
So. I am a pessimist. When bad news hits, I tend to take it to its logical (or illogical) extreme, picturing the worst case scenario, sometimes prudently planning for it, other times simply dithering and fretting miserably over what may be. I’ve been like this since I was a child, the product of two parents who embodied two extremes: a Pollyanna mother and a catastrophist father.
Why I chose to follow in my dad’s footsteps on this one rather than my mom’s, I don’t know, except that it seemed somehow safer to be hyper-vigilant than too blithe in the face of trouble.
Has it made me a happier person? No. Has it made me safer? Arguably, maybe, on certain occasions. But right now, it’s making me a person who is blind to hope.
“OK, OK, back up,” you say. “What on earth are you rambling about?”
Well, my mom was diagnosed with cancer two years ago. And it wasn’t a good kind to get diagnosed with, if there ever is such a thing. The statistics are grim. However, mom was upbeat, choosing to hope for being in the 5% that beat it, and coming through surgery and chemo with flying colors. Most likely, had she not been the determinedly chipper person she’s always been, she would not have done nearly as well.
This, I think, is a lesson it would do me good to absorb. Optimism bolsters perseverance.
Though certain doctors gave her an alarmingly abrupt death sentence at the time, she’s still doing well. Yet I can’t help focusing on the negative. It’s my way of preparing for the future, that unimaginable, eventual day when I may have to do without her.
However, it’s not helping my mom. When I see her, I have to remind myself not to treat her like she’s already halfway out the door. I have to bite my tongue on dolorous comments, while in my mind I’m thinking even more dolorous thoughts. I’ve always privately believed, “I’m right and she’s deluded.” But what the hell do I know? Sure, there are statistics and horror stories to help me stay awake brooding on how dismal and pointless life is, but those, I’m beginning to realize, only focus on the worst end results, and blind us to the good times of the present – the only moment any of us can truly own.
So, is optimism a more ethical attitude to adopt? Does it help us to live in ways that make us better people, people who contribute more to the world, who don’t give up?
I don’t know. But I do know this: My mom, who I once railed at for being blind to “the truth,” is showing me now how to have the strength to carry on when things get tough. Another great gift from a very wise woman.