A few days ago, I started this conversation about the half empty, half full cup. I talked about the implications of looking at the cup as half empty. You can go to the earlier posting on this blog to catch up.
Today, I’m in the world of half-full cups. We generally say that the cup half full folks are optimists. They see opportunities in everything. True, and there is more to it than that.
I have studied optimists for some time. I have a tendency toward optimism, so it’s personal. I always felt being a half full cup person was far better than being a half empty believer. It let me feeling I was better than others.
I bounced around thinking this for most of life. Then I met, head-on, someone who made me look like a pessimist. At first, I was enthralled. Great, someone who everyone loves to be around because of their bright outlook. As time wore on, I began to see fraying around the edges of this perspective.
One day, it dawned on me that I was around this person so I could see myself better. It’s that way when a big lesson is up. I’ve written often enough about the impact of living in the future. This is often the orientation of an optimist. They look beyond today, and find how tomorrow’s good outcome will take care of today’s problem.
This leaning into the future is contagious. So many of us want things to be better than they are. There are parts of our lives we don’t like. So, if we think about how things could be different, and apply a bit of hope, then “poof” all is well.
We all had a first hand example of how this brand of optimism works during the 2008 campaign. President Obama’s HOPE poster said it all. We were in a terrible economic mess, and we hoped that this man could get us out of it. This hope infected enough voters, and tipped the election in his direction.
I remember watching Obama’s speech the night of the election. After a few minutes of thanking everyone, he started to reshape his conversation with the American people. The road ahead was going to take hard work. He warned that there would be no quick solutions. I thought I could see in his eyes the awareness that his use of the optimists mantra of hope may turn on him.
Hope is something that is honored as an important attribute. I’m not so sure. Hope, to me, overlooks what’s right before my eyes. Hope has me believe in magical solutions that are often about what will happen tomorrow, rather than being present with what is, today.
I feel that confidence is a far greater quality than hope. Confidence is informed by the current situation, but not limited by it. In reading David McCoullough’s book, 1776, I was moved by George Washington’s confidence in the ability of the Continental Army to overcome great odds against the British army. He wasn’t hopeful. In fact, in some of his private letters, he reveals his concerns about the magnitude of the challenge. Yet, he felt confident, even knowing this situation, that they would prevail.
Sometimes, people will say that hope is the only way beyond a seemingly impossible situation. I disagree. You see, the obstacles I perceive are derived from what i believe. It’s these beliefs that create the feeling of impossibility. When I look at the world through these beliefs, I can’t see things as they are. I see the obstacles, or I see possibilities that aren’t real.
I’m becoming a reformed optimist. I have great help from my wife, who asks questions that puncture my optimism. For the longest time, I was really annoyed by these questions. I said to myself that she wasn’t supportive of my ambitions. I felt she didn’t understand what I could see.
I realized that she wasn’t infected by the emotions of optimism, and she could see some things I was overlooking. I had a fear, unknown at the time, that if I wasn’t optimistic, I would be stuck in a bleak world of “can’t do”. I would look around and capitulate to seeming adversity.
My experience has been very different than what I feared. I don’t have the emotional highs so much, and that fits me better. I also notice one of the other impacts of optimism. I would consistently override intuition. I would know something so clearly that there was no doubt. Yet, my optimism would sweep me right past this knowing and into the realm of wishing thinking. The outcome was often not very pretty.
I can see that pessimists have the same challenge. It’s just the other side of this coin of not seeing things as they are. In the end, the cup isn’t half-full or half-empty. The cup has a certain volume of liquid in it, and that’s it.
When we make our world something it isn’t, we are on the roller-coaster of emotional drama that some call suffering. Stepping into the reality of this moment is both a cure for both optimism and pessimism, and a way to a life that is free beyond comparison.