Saturday, May 14, 2016

Calculating the Vector of Optimism on Life's Trajectory

When I was a little kid, I used to watch the show Bewitched.  This was a favorite with my family.  There was one episode where, due to yet another mishap with a spell cast by a member of Samantha's family, Benjamin Franklin was brought forward to the future.  
Near the end of episode, as they were struggling to right this magical wrong while at the same time save yet another of Darren's accounts, Franklin expressed an opinion that the options before them all seemed to lead to disaster.  
Samantha replied that, for someone as accomplished as he was, that seemed to be a very pessimistic point of view.  Franklin replied that he preferred an attitude of pessimism over optimism because, "as an optimist I would find myself continually disappointed, while as a pessimist I'm prepared for the worst and, on occasion, find myself pleasantly surprised."  
That scene stuck in young mind and as I grew up became the basis for my attitude on how I faced life.  It was especially brought to home after my near-disastrous road trip after graduation that I've written about in this blog.  Things WILL go wrong.  Blind optimism is no substitute for planning and preparation.  Never under estimate the degree to which situations or people can disappoint you.  
I have stood proudly on this, the bedrock of my beliefs, and proceeded forward as forthrightly as I could.  I even added my own quotable line about how we should regard our existence.  
The universe is like a mafia hit-man.  It IS out to get you, but hey...  It's nothing personal.  
With this blog entry, however, I am reconsidering this position, and I'm wondering, to myself but openly in this forum, if I should try to find a way to be more optimistic.  
I sigh and shake my head.  Maybe I've been listening to too many of Bernie Sander's campaign speeches this last year.  
My reasons for this reconsideration are two-fold.  The first has to do with something I heard on the TED Radio Hour last week.  
I like the TED Radio Hour.  I've quoted things I've heard on it a number of times.  Having it play on the radio as I drive home is like having a stimulating conversation with a few very intelligent friends about things that interest me.  
The May 6th episode was, "The Case for Optimism."  I flinched a bit when I heard that.  It was like having a fellow baseball fan open a conversation about the state of the game with, "You know, there are good reasons for the designated hitter..."  
"No," I wanted to reply.  "Not you, too...!"  
But I listened and, as usual, was fascinated by the presentation, from presenters as diverse as former Vice President Al Gore, a neuroscientist that has isolated where optimism resides in the brain and how it allows us to take chances and makes us happier, and a woman talking about her life going from homeless immigrant to a successful business owner with a family, that includes a husband who was also homeless as a child, and a dog that was rescued from people that used it to prep other dogs for fights by allowing them to attack her.  
The thing that I got out of this presentation of TED Talks was that optimistic people are happier and that they tend to be more successful.  That our brains drive us to optimism, by making us forget the mistakes and negative results of the past so we can try again to do the things we want to do.  And that being optimistic allows us to view our current situation in a way that we are better able to see opportunities for happiness and success.  
I have a number of "touchy-feelie" friends who might read this and send me a message that could be boiled down to, "Duh!  What took you so long."  My reply would be that if you had presented your case as cogently as this presentation had, I might have given your position greater consideration, and that everyone evolves at their own pace, with a person's development measured not by time but growth.  
I'd also add that this is just a consideration of a change.  Something I've always been open to if doing so leads to positive results.  
The second basis for making a change in my attitude in life in this regard is that things have been changing in my life, in very dramatic ways, in recent weeks.  
I made reference to this in an earlier post in regards to my recent trip to Japan.  How I came to realize that I needed to take more direct action to have what I wanted to happen in life take place instead of waiting for things to just happen.  
In a way, something that is occurring to me right now, this might be considered an example of pessimism winning out over optimism.  I waited for something good to "just happen," and when it didn't, my pessimism finally convinced me that it wouldn't unless I did it myself.  Hmm?  
But my life is rife with change.  And I have been worrying as a result.  Worrying because I see all the ways things can go wrong.  Such as...
At work, there has been a change of administration.  As a result, things are being done more fairly, with a greater emphasis on people who are doing good work being recognized, acknowledged and rewarded.  The difference has been startling.  But with this, there is greater accountability, stricter standards, and I am feeling pressure, from within mostly, to do more than what I was doing before.  At times I've wondered when I'll stumble and fall just as things are going the way I've hoped they would.  
If I could be more optimistic, I could set my own standards for my performance, which have been higher than those set for me by others in the past.  I would take the opportunities presented, and do more to advance the cause of my company, my employees and myself.  
I set myself a goal of producing more in my writing, and submitting more work for consideration.  I've not only not hit the goals I set for myself, but I still feel the sting whenever I receive yet another rejection.  I've wondered to myself how much longer I can go on at such a rate.  
As an optimist, I could look at this the way I look at hitters in Major Leagues.  Each at bat is different, just as each story is different.  It's about having a quality at bat and waiting for opportunities to come.  A good hitter will fail to get a hit more than 70% of the time.  I should set my standards there and try to get as many at bats as I can.  
There is someone else in my life now.  This always brings a barrel full of concerns for me, who has not seen very much success in matters of the heart.  Just mentioning it here, in this blog, is an effort to believe that if I can "ride the rhythm," a way of saying, "go with the flow," I can live a more satisfied life.  
As you probably expect, Samantha's scheme got Benjamin Franklin back to his time, and saved the account Darren was working on by incorporating something about the famous American patriot into his presentation.  Sitcoms abound with optimistic results.  
For myself, in a world where time-traveling patriots are rare creatures that I have not encountered, I have only myself to figure out what to do next.  I can only hope for the best.  
Or perhaps, expect it.    


Anonymous Elcoda Trumpets said...

Thank you, it was a great tour.

May 17, 2016 at 12:15 PM  

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