I choose optimism


I recently had the chance of visiting an old family friend who had become bitter. He had good reasons too. His wife left him for his best friend, one of his sons had become an alcoholic (even spent several years living in the streets), and his recently founded business had failed. He was old, tired and lonely.

But his life wasn't always like this. During his youth, he was a smart and successful businessperson. Born in California, he spent most of his adult life living and traveling through Latin America, working for a large American corporation. At the peak of his career, he held one of the highest positions in the company. His children went to the best schools, his salary was in the 0.01%, and he was respected and admired. A very successful person by any metric.

During our visit, he spent almost the entire time talking about how the world had decayed and was trending downwards. Conflict all over the world, smartphones making children asocial, the economy collapsing in the weight of its debt, traditional values no longer being respected, etc. The world had become a living hell in his eyes.

Most of his statements were factual: the world is indeed under very high levels of debt, there is evidence that smartphones have decreased the social skills of the young and the threat of nuclear war due to the Russian-Ukranian conflict is ever-growing.

But the thought that stuck with me was "The world is obviously trending downward". Try to stop and think for a minute about what that sentence means.

In some abstract sense, the only way to rigorously judge the world as "trending downwards" is to add up all the good and bad happening in the world. Then, look at this balance over time and you could tell if the calculation is trending upwards or downwards. Or you could just take the pessimist approach and selectively pick a few bad apples. There's enough to be found.

He chose pessimism

There is enough evil in the world to convince yourself that the world is evil. Our history, particularly the 20th century is filled with so many horrible events that it's not hard to conclude that humanity is a rotten, decaying species that will eventually destroy itself.

But the same is true of good. There is enough progress, good and beauty in the world for everyone that wants to see it.

He chose to see the evil, not the good. I can't judge him. His own life had been trending downward for years. Undoubtedly all of this impacted his judgment over the world. If you took a closer look, however, there are other ways you could have looked at his life. He had a good relationship with most of his family members, he was in good health, had a great pension, and his alcoholic son, sober for many years now, is rebuilding his life. Is his life perfect? No, but certainly better than the life of many.

Look for the good in the world

Just as he selectively judged the entire world as decaying I invite you to do the opposite. Look into all the beautiful things that are happening in your life, into the beauty of nature, and the progress we've done as a species and be optimistic about the world.

How you view the world, impacts how you view your life.

© Fernando Hurtado Cardenas.RSS