There are two types of optimism, real optimism and fake, cowardly optimism. Real optimism sees the Valley of Dry Bones and says, ‘These bones will rise!’ Fake, cowardly optimism says, ‘I like these bones. Dry bones are so very artistic to look at.
You may find that you have been telling yourself that practicing optimism is a risk, as though, somehow, a positive attitude will invite disaster and so if you practice optimism it may increase your feelings of vulnerability. The trick is to increase your tolerance for vulnerable feelings, rather than avoid them altogether.[…]Optimism does not mean continual happiness, glazed eyes and a fixed grin. When I talk about the desirability of optimism I do not mean that we should delude ourselves about reality. But practicing optimism does mean focusing more on the positive fall-out of an event than on the negative. … I am not advocating the kind of optimism that means you blow all your savings on a horse running at a hundred to one; I am talking about being optimistic enough to sow some seeds in the hope that some of them will germinate and grow into flowers.
A word about my personal philosophy. It is anchored in optimism. It must be, for optimism brings with it hope, a future with a purpose, and therefore, a will to fight for a better world. Without this optimism, there is no reason to carry on. If we think of the struggle as aclimb up a mountain, then we must visualize a mountain with no top. We see a top, but when we finall yreach it, the overcast rises and we find ourselves merely on a bluff. The mountain continues on up. Now we see the "real" top ahead of us, and strive for it, only to find we've reached another bluff, the top still above us. And so it goes on, interminably.Knowing that the mountain has no top, that it is a perpetual quest from plateau to plateau, the question arises, "Why the struggle, the conflict, the heartbreak, the danger, the sacrifice. Why the constant climb?" Our answer is the same as that which a real mountain climber gives when he is asked why he does what he does. "Because it's there." Because life is there ahead of you and either one tests oneself in its challenges or huddles in the valleys of a dreamless day-to-day existence whose only purpose is the preservation of a illusory security and safety. The latter is what the vast majority of people choose to do, fearing the adventure into the known. Paradocically, they give up the dream of what may lie ahead on the heighs of tomorrow for a perpetual nightmare - an endless succession of days fearing the loss of a tenuous security.
Optimism hopes for the best without any guarantee of its arriving and is often no more than whistling in the dark. Christian hope, by contrast, is faith looking ahead to the fulfillment of the promises of God, as when the Anglican burial service inters the corpse 'in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Optimism is a wish without warrant; Christian hope is a certainty, guaranteed by God himself. Optimism reflects ignorance as to whether good things will ever actually come. Christian hope expresses knowledge that every day of his life, and every moment beyond it, the believer can say with truth, on the basis of God's own commitment, that the best is yet to come.
No matter how bad things got, no matter how anxious the staff became, the commander had to “preserve optimism in himself and in his command. Without confidence, enthusiasm and optimism in the command, victory is scarcely obtainable.” Eisenhower realized that “optimism and pessimism are infectious and they spread more rapidly from the head downward than in any other direction.” He learned that a commander’s optimism “has a most extraordinary effect upon all with whom he comes in contact. With this clear realization, I firmly determined that my mannerisms and speech in public would always reflect the cheerful certainty of victory—that any pessimism and discouragement I might ever feel would be reserved for my pillow.
Optimism is a deadly vice of gigantic proportions lodged into the human psyche by Satan. It is the enemy of reality. We see a bad situation and optimism prevents us from extrapolating that. Instead we think, "Oh, it's bound to get better." So we plunge into the thicket, sure that it will thin, denied the aerial view that would show us the true, unacceptable horror of our lot. Perhaps optimism is good for prison escapees, who have no choice but to plod on. The rest of us are not well served. It poisons our judgment.
When our hopes for performance are not completely met, realistic optimism involves accepting what cannot now be changed, rather than condemning or second-guessing ourselves. Focusing on the successful aspects of performance (even when the success is modest) promotes positive affect, reduces self-doubt, and helps to maintain motivation (e.g., McFarland & Ross, 1982).... Nevertheless, realistic optimism does not include or imply expectations that things will improve on their own. Wishful thinking of this sort typically has no reliable supporting evidence. Instead, the opportunity-seeking component of realistic optimism motivates efforts to improve future performances on the basis of what has been learned from past performances.
If we define optimism broadly as the tendency to maintain a positive outlook, then realistic optimism is the tendency to maintain a positive outlook within the constraints of the available "measurable phenomena situated in the physical and social world" (DeGrandpre, 2000, p. 733). With respect to fuzzy meaning, realistic optimism involves enhancing and focusing on the favorable aspects of our experiences. Examples include being lenient in our evaluation of past events, actively appreciating the positive aspects of our current situation, and routinely emphasizing possible opportunities for the future. With respect to fuzzy knowledge, realistic optimism involves hoping, aspiring, and searching for positive experiences while acknowledging what we do not know and accepting what we cannot know.
My optimism? Where I grew up our principal cultural expression was the funeral. Whatever keeps me going, it isn't optimism.
I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.