The spectrum of the allowable optimism in Western Society

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I have noticed that overoptimism will often be criticized for idealism, while realism can be taken for negativism or even pessimism. This leaves a very narrow spectrum of allowable optimism in the Western culture. Certainly, pessimism is given a stiff shoulder. What is interesting is when you throw in confidence into the equation. If the overoptimism is smothered in overconfidence, aside from sounding arrogant, there is an almost automatic desire to burst the balloon. An under-confident overoptimism is called wishful thinking. Overconfident pessimism, or even realism is likely to be considered doomsayer.

When a CEO drives the team to deliver above-average growth, there must be a level of exuberance and confidence that oozes through contact with him or her. Growth (like learning) comes with work, and work takes effort. In order to source that effort, the CEO taps into the energy of optimism. So, it is only natural that a CEO expresses optimism. When employees feel the optimism as overly optimistic, then problems can enter into the picture (disconnect). Again, it’s about getting the right level of optimism.

And, in life, given the challenges that naturally accompany it — in varying doses we all have our challenges — it seems that we need to have a greater-than-average level of optimism and confidence to overcome them. Like a company seeking to beat the competition — or more gloriously to grow the industry — a super effort is needed. As with many an individual in the workplace (notably during reviews), you will find them giving themselves higher marks than their peers or an employer might give them (not just because the employer is trying to talk down the salary raise). I know that in tennis, I prefer to talk about how I CAN play, not always how I do play. A little conceit in all of us, no?

I believe that the human being is naturally going to tend toward the overoptimism and overconfidence in order to survive, much less succeed in this life. Anything less and it can be like defeat. I personally subscribe to the “I smile, therefore I am happy” camp and am an inveterate optimist. In France, I sometimes find myself feeling a little naive. But, I would never let that get me down.

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