Optimist and Pessimists

We have been led to believe that pessimists see half-glasses as “half-empty” while optimists see them as “half-full.” This is wrong on several levels.

First, it is backwards. Optimists, the supposed “half-full” people, do not tend to focus on what is there, but on what is not. They see in a half-empty glass the possibility of filling it. Conversely, people who tend toward pessimism, focus on the what is really there–the “half-full” part.

Second, the half-glass metaphor is about the current state, not the future. Optimism and pessimism are all about the future, not about today.

Third, the metaphor is intended to shame. If you see the glass as half-empty, shame on you. It implies that pessimists (who usually call themselves “realists”) are negative and ungrateful, which is the final flaw of the metaphor.

The underlying message is that we should all be satisfied with what we have, not what we don’t have, which serves people with full glasses who want everyone else to be satisfied with half as much.

The optimists I know are grateful for what they have but won’t settle for half-full glasses. They want everyone to have a full glass, drink it and fill it again.

The pessimists (realists) I know are also grateful for what they have. They may be less certain about a brighter future but that does not mean they are without hope. Their tempered outlook is likely based on their real life experiences.

We have also been led to believe that optimists are naive and see the world through rose-colored glasses, living in a state of denial about how bad things are. They are pollyannish and unrealistic about the future. Again, I do not agree.

The optimists I know are not naive. Like realists, they too have known pain, struggle and suffering and have forged a path through it to a better place. Indeed, their optimism may well be what saved them from despair.

When our glasses tip over, and everything we had spills away, it is difficult for everyone to find hope for the future. We need all perspectives–optimists and realists alike to find hope and forge that future.

If you tend toward optimism, dream bigger than you ever have before. See crises as opportunities to be bolder than ever about a brighter future. Then, find yourself a pessimist (realist) who can help you develop concrete plans, with risk mitigation strategies for the inevitable pitfalls along the way. But don’t accuse them of being negative or hopeless.

If you tend toward pessimism, find yourself an optimist. Ask them to show you the brighter future they see and ask them for evidence to convince you that it is possible. But, please don’t accuse them of being naive, having rose-colored glasses or settling for a glass half-full. 

We need each other. We are in this together.

For more radical thinking about myths in our culture, see my book Management Culture at mgmtculture.com or amazon.com.

About Denise Moreland

The dynamics between employees and managers are fascinating, and often dysfunctional. I have spent my career trying to create healthy and engaging relationships. My book, Management Culture (Two Harbors Press, 2012), identifies outdated rules and patterns, and offers fresh ideas on how we can all improve our work places. Learn more and purchase Management Culture at mgmtculture.com. Through my business, LifeGuides, I provide life coaching, facilitation and public speaking services. Please follow me on: Facebook Linkedin Twitter
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