The pitfalls of optimism, of pessism

Walt got a Masters degree in counseling psychology. While in school, he married a welfare mom with two kids, so he was unable to give his counseling practice time to grow. Within months, he got a job with a steady paycheck. When that business laid him off, he was content to draw unemployment for six months before looking for a job. Alas, he discovered that his benefits were only good for three months, so he had to scramble for work. No work was forthcoming until I introduced him to Bill who owns an auto repair shop. Walt went to work at Bill’s shop, but was soon fired when he argued with the foreman. Now, Walt is driving a school bus while he looks for something better.

As Walt sees it, his problems are caused by bad luck or other people. This is because Walt is a raving optimist, and raving optimists underestimate their own blame while overestimating the blame of everyone else. I am a pessimist. I would not have majored in counseling psychology if I wanted to stay in Eugene, because half of the counselors in Eugene are waiting tables. Nor would I have married an unskilled welfare mom who was irresponsible with her money and, perhaps, her uterus. Nor would I have reached my 53rd birthday with no savings.

Pessimists anticipate the worst, and seek to avoid it. Optimists don’t realistically analyze the odds; don’t take responsibility; and don’t learn from their mistakes. Pessimists are painfully aware of their own weaknesses and of everything that could conceivably go wrong. They consequently exaggerate the likelihood that something will go wrong, and they become frozen. They lose faith in the possibility of good outcomes, whereas optimists see nothing but good outcomes.

George Bush is an optimist. He never loses confidence, and people are dying by the thousands because of it. But then optimists are generally happy people, whereas pessimists often have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. Which one does the most good in the world versus the most evil? I don’t know.