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A Personal Defense of Negativity

As a person who has been cursed with the propensity to see what’s wrong with much of the things I see around me, I have spent a lifetime listening to advice that I should be more positive and more optimistic.  I have been told over and over to look for what’s right in the things I see around me, not what’s wrong.  No one enjoys listening to a constant litany of the problems around them.

Considering my penchant for problem identification, you should not be surprised that I have always seen a problem with that advice.

To me, what’s really important is not so much how you view what you see around you, but whether or not you are moved to do something to make what you see better.  The older I get the more convinced I become that for some of us, negativity actually leads to more positive actions.  Lest you think I have lost my mind, let me walk through that time tested way of separating optimists from pessimists – their view of that glass of water on the table.

You know the drill.  On a table in the middle of a room there is a 16 ounce glass filled with 8 ounces of water.  People who walk into the room and describe the glass as half full are considered to be optimists while those who describe the glass as half empty are deemed to be pessimists.

And of course, we all know, pessimism is bad.  In fact, even I believe it is if it leads to inactivity.  I think what has always been important about that silly glass of water on that table is who is going to be more motivated to fill it up?

It has always seemed to me that most people who view the glass as half full are in effect expressing a degree of satisfaction with the glass as it is.  If a half full glass doesn’t bother you, you are not likely to take action to fill it to the brim.

However, a proper pessimist, instead of bemoaning the fact that the glass is half empty, will begin looking for ways to fill it up.  I think there’s something to be said for that.  For me, I’d rather be a proper pessimist who takes action than a starry eyed optimist who does nothing.

I am not naïve enough to fail to see that few people like being around someone who complains about everything in sight.  Personally, I suspect one day someone will say that a predisposition towards optimism versus pessimism may be biological.

In the meantime, to my fellow pessimists, let me simply share some of what I have learned.  Keep your complaints to yourself a little more and focus on taking actions to fix things.

And to the incurable optimists among you, don’t fall into the trap of allowing your positivity to cause you to accept everything around you as it is, rather than doing everything in your power to move towards things as they should be.