In Defense Of Pessimism

We need pessimists. They aren’t the people we deserve, they are the people we need.

Being a pessimist has been labeled ‘bad’, and pessimists have it rough. The media puts forth caricatures of pessimists for people to laugh at, and it starts at a young age. “Oh look at that stupid donkey Eeyore! He’s a pessimist. Maybe that’s why no one likes him and he sits out in his poverty stricken house in the rain. Stupid pessimist!” Or maybe “Ha ha! Look at that pessimist living in a garbage can, only coming out to yell at people on the street and be grumpy! That Oscar the Grouch is such a pessimist!” There is also a weird dehumanizing that happens with pessimists. Eeyore the donkey, Oscar the grouch, Abu the monkey (Aladdin), Phil the satyr (Hercules), Sebastian the crab (Little Mermaid), Merryweather the fat fairy (Sleeping Beauty), Bagheera the jungle cat (Jungle Book), and although he didn’t speak, I’m pretty sure the horse from Tangled was also supposed to be a pessimist. Each of these movies has a human being in it, so it’s not like I’m picking animals in talking animal movies. Be careful about what the media is telling your children about pessimists, or else they might assume that all pessimists are clinically depressed, subhuman, and homeless.

I’m here to redeem the pessimists of the world. We’ve been dealt a bad hand because we are constantly compared against our delusional brethren, the optimists. Optimists have the much better public relations representatives, but they are the real jerks that you have to watch out for. It’s easy enough to prove that pessimists are superior to optimists with an easy experiment. Put a pessimist and an optimist in the same room and ask them to talk about the other. The optimist will only have great things to say about the pessimist, and the pessimist will only have bad things to say about the optimist.

Let me define a few things and show you what I mean. An optimist is someone who sees the good in a situation. A pessimist is someone who sees the bad in a situation. I call optimists delusional because they’ll be willingly naïve about a situation so they can continue to white-wash what’s going on. It makes them happy. It makes them live in a fantasy world. An optimist is satisfied with bad situations. Pessimists, on the other hand, are engrossed in reality, they see the flaws of the imperfect world. Because pessimists see the flaws, they can be agents of change for the better. Whether the system they are in is good or bad, a pessimist knows how to make it better.

I’d like to use a Bible story to illustrate my point. In Exodus 16 a spirit led a bunch of Israelites out into the desert. The spirit was unpredictable, having just tortured and killed a lot of people in a campaign of divine terrorism. Being lead into the desert by such a being would be terrifying to anyone. Well, that’s where the pessimists came in to save the day. They saw the situation and said “We are going to die out here! Hey, we’re going to starve!” So the spirit gave them bread to eat, every day! Later on, the pessimists said “how about some meat?” And the lord gave them quails to eat. The bible story clearly illustrates that with optimists you die in a desert, but with pessimists you get as much bread and meat as you can handle. Pessimists made the desert a better place. I mean, they still died in that desert when that rather whimsical spirit forced them to march around for 40 years, but look on the bright side like an optimist, at least those sunburned little nomads had quail and bread that entire time.

Pessimists see things in a very different light than optimists (see above bible story for reference). It’s helpful. It’s funny. Pessimists don’t sugarcoat the harshness of reality. An optimist will tell you that every cloud has a silver lining. A pessimist lets you know that the silver lining is most visible on a wall cloud, the most destructive part of a storm where lightning and tornadoes are created.

I’d like to tackle a few false correlations folks make about pessimists. There is no reason to assume that optimists are happy and that pessimists are sad. There is no reason to assume that optimists are social while pessimists are anti-social. There isn’t even a real correlation between optimists being pleasant to be around and pessimists are downers. I present exhibits A and B.

Exhibit A: Liz Lemon from the Liz Lemon show (AKA 30 Rock). She’s a pessimist, determinedly happy, has a robust network of friends, and I wouldn’t mind hanging out with her all day. (I might have a Tina Fey crush that I’ll have to address in future blogs). Pleasantly pessimistic.

Exhibit B: Eeyore the donkey. I know, I know, I called Eeyore a pessimist earlier, but no one can be a pessimist all of the time, even if it is the superior state of being. Eeyore destroyed my childhood with his one burst of optimism. I had just started Pre-School and was worried about making friends, and I’m shy, so it didn’t come easily. I was watching Winnie the Pooh when Pooh-Bear himself smashes through Eeyore’s house, and Eeyore simply says “Thanks for noticing me”. Eeyore was so lonely that even if it cost him his house right before a gigantic storm, he felt a slight flutter from the pittance of attention he got. I realized how sad that was, and then I realized that I identified with it. Optimism destroyed my innocence and my childhood.

I started this blog because I’m a pessimist. I took a look at what my friends were posting on Facebook and it was a lot of Daddy blogs, where dads gave child rearing advice, or extremely conservative Christian blogs that said the ever-so predictable about the News headlines. I looked at this and saw the bad. There was no inspiration, no connection, no triumph, and no joy. Everything was a problem that needed to be fixed. So I decided to do something about the bad in the situation I saw. I made a new blog that provided the things those blogs lacked.

Anyway, I wrote all of this in defense of the name I chose for this blog: Pessimistic Ponderings. There are a lot of things in this world that could be made better, and I think that talking about these flaws and raising awareness about them will do a lot of good to help change the situation. I think that pessimism leads to hope. Pessimism leads to change. Pessimism is taking a look at the bad. It doesn’t have to be sad, gloomy, defeatist, or hopeless. It can be just the opposite. It can be funny, engaging, hopeful and inspiring. I think that pessimism is a word that needs to be redeemed.

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