We Should Stop Discussing Optimism Versus Pessimism

Mongolian Milk Pail. Source: Wikimedia Commons; (c) Taylor Weidman / The Vanishing Cultures Project, CC BY-SA 3.0In discussions about our children’s future life on Earth, we often tend to fall into a discussion about how optimistic or pessimistic we view the future. Glass half-full-half-empty? Disengage people with negative news? Foster complacency with overreporting small positive news? Denial? Hopelessness? Encourage fascist believes that only total destruction will allow a rebirth?

Now, in the following story, optimism is indeed the key: “A farmer once forgot a pail of milk outside his door. Two frogs hopped into the pail and found that they could not hop out again. After thrashing around for a long time, one of them said: “There is no hope!” – and, with one last gurgle, he sank to the bottom. The other frog, however, refused to give up. And, in the morning, when the farmer came out, he found a live frog sitting on top of a big cake of butter.” (I learned this from a Pete Seeger recording…)

However, in our present situation, we need targeted action. Not aimless hope against all odds! And presently, both optimism and pessimism seem to encourage inaction. We may be optimistic that other, highly competent people will somehow fix things. Endless fusion energy just around the very next corner (… endless loop). Or pessimistic that, whatever we do, we cannot change, with our individual, self-sacrificial action the course of the world. It is just our fate, destiny, kismet.

So, to draw up another example, what if on our way to a nice concert, we find a seriously wounded child on the walkway. Would we discuss the question of optimism vs. pessimism? Maybe the child looks worse than it is and will simply be fine? Maybe all is in vain and even the best doctor cannot rescue the child? Maybe we don’t need to give up our plans and simply continue and go to the concert?

But, in reality, we would not discuss any of this. We would think and act fast.

(© Gregor Hagedorn 2017, CC BY-SA 4.0, publ. 2017-10-30, updated 2018-02-04)

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