Pessimist or Realist?

Reading week is officially over. Well it was fun while it lasted!

During the reading week I was able to get in touch with some friends, share stories, and brag about India. While we were indulging in deep, intellectual conversation, one of my good friends pointed out that I have a tendency to always bring up the negative sides of things. I denied the accusation, and I did go on the defensive a little bit, but the truth is, this wasn't the first time someone had said this to me. Because this wasn't the first time, I had to do a quick self analysis and ask myself, “Do you always think about the negative?” If people who are very close to me, and have known me for years are telling me this, then there must be some truth behind it that I am clearly unaware of. Then I started wondering if this is how I am perceived by others. If so, will the people I meet in India think I am negative as well?

In retrospect, I can admit that I am more predisposed to think about the worst case scenarios more often than I think about the best case scenarios. Also, when people ask for my opinion, or tell me about certain plans or situations, I am usually the one to play devil's advocate, if you will. As an example, instead of agreeing right away, I like to ask questions such as, “If A doesn't happen, then what are you going to do?” Or I'll say somethiing along the lines of, “Yes, that's great, but what about ________?” I personally didn't think of this as being “negative” per se, but it led to me being called that dreadful word: pessimist!

All this time I thought of myself as a very happy go-lucky girl, with a friendly disposition, who is always smiling and laughing, and has a great sense of humour. Now, I am being called a pessimist? This can't be! A pessimist is the complete antithesis of who am, or should I say, who I thought I was.

For some reason the word “pessimist” leaves a bad taste in my mouth. “Why?”, you might ask. Well, I blame society, first of all. To me, the word has an overall bad connotation. I view pessimism and optimism as a type of dichotomy, where, on one end of spectrum you have pessimists who are miserable, cynical people, who are never satisfied, who are very unappreciative, and depressed because they view everything in life negatively, and are unable to see the good in any situation. (Now do you see why I was so offended to be called a pessimist?) Meanwhile, optimists are self-deluded people who are running through life as if it were a field of lillies and daffodils; where nothing can upset them, or bring them down, because they believe everything in life will work out perfectly in the end. This is obviously my over exaggerated interpretation of pessimism and optimism, because I don't think people are actually like this, however, based on my own interpretations, I would not want to be placed on either side of the spectrum! Quite frankly, it may sound better to be called an optimist instead of a pessimist, however, there are pitfalls to being either one. For example, optimists may be setting themselves up for failure by having overly ambitious goals, and no alternative courses of action if those goals are not met, because they assumed everything would work out. Thinking about or planning for the worst case scenario is not necessarily a bad thing, but being overly pessimistic about every situation, is. Plus, it cannot be good for your health. That is why I consider myself to be a realist, which in my mind, is a combination of both pessimism and optimism.

The classic test used to decipher whether or not a person is an optimist or a pessimist is to ask, “Is the glass half empty, or half full?” Apparently if you answer that the glass is half full, you are an optimist, and you are a pessimist if you see the glass as half empty. I remember when I was first asked this question and, before I understood its implications, I had trouble answering it, because clearly the glass is both half empty and half full. Then, throughout the years, I became more apt to say the glass was half empty. I'm not sure why, really. I should have maintained my initial position, but maybe throughout the years I became more skeptical life. What this suggests, however, is that I have always been a realist at heart!

A basic definition of a realist I found was, “A person who accepts the world as it is literally, and deals with it accordingly” (Church of Reality). This is exactly what I tell people when they call me a pessimist. I suppose because I am so quick to point out the "negative", or the bad outcomes, people take that as me being pessimistic. However, I would rather lay all the cards on the table and give all possibilities equal consideration because, realistically, that's how life works. Not everything will turn out horribly bad, and not everything will be absolutely wonderful. The only thing we can do is wait to see the the outcome, and deal with it from there. But like I said in my last post, preparing for worst case scenarios, is always wise and decreases the chances of failure. And I don't see anything pessimistic about that!

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3 Response to "Pessimist or Realist?"

  1. Cathleen DiFruscio says:
    February 21, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    I really liked your post this week Raquel! People definitely would put me in the pessimist category, but I like to describe myself as a realist too. I try to live in reality - plan and expect for the worst (it's about being prepared!), but deep down I hope for the best. I don't think optimism and realism need to be separate - one you do with your head, the other with your heart.

  2. Olivia says:
    February 23, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    I agree! And if you're considered a pessimist I'm terrified of what people will think of me hah! You are always laughing and smiling so I understand where you're coming from, I also tend to view pessimism as bad and something you don't want to be. You are hardly a negative person though and I wonder if maybe the fact that you discuss other options or negative consequences at all is what throws people off. I don't know if you've noticed (dripping with sarcasm) but the news really only focuses on the bad things. I think people take good events and outcomes for granted, so you probably are saying a TON of good stuff, but because you mention a couple of negative possibilities that is what people notice and focus on. Unfortunately, people don't really want to listen to the good stuff, they tend to just brush it off as "oh whatever", "of course", when realistically that isn't the case. Just a thought/theory I thought I would pass along...

  3. savija-nevena says:
    February 26, 2010 at 7:56 AM

    Raquel, I have just caught up.. sounds like an eventful two weeks. I can most definitely relate to this. I think it's one of the aspects of the going battle we have with society. I also see myself as realist, and am more then often portrait as a pessimist instead. There is a thick line between cautiousness and ridiculous negativity, which I think is often wrongly perceived.

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