On Optimism, Heavy Boots and Stupidity

Words from a man that gets it.

It’s a Saturday morning, there’s a three day weekend ahead full of plans and the sun is shining its way through the odd burst of rain. Fairly solid start to proceedings. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to tuck my head between my knees and lean forward. Let’s roll.

The words of Henry Rollins shown above struck a chord with me the first time I read them. They’ve resonated with me ever since. I try not to frame my thoughts using other people’s well formed sentences, particularly taken out of context, but the above takes something that sits at the core of my life and expresses it far better than I could. Short of running around in heavy boots and shouting about optimism. I’ve done that, but it tends to draw more complaints!

I’ve written about optimism previously, but I’ve come to realise that I haven’t told the whole story on it. I’ve not intentionally tried to mislead anyone here, just learning more as I go. As life has its ups and downs, I see things from more perspectives. Something that I saw a certain way can look drastically different if the context changes. 

I’ve always seen optimism in a positive light. Which sounds obvious given that I’d be wrong or lying if I didn’t! The Joy of Life. Thinking I’m a winner. Seeing the best in people. These are all fairly straightforward manifestations of that core optimism. Not too much interpretation required. 

Alongside the optimism, I do try and maintain a healthy sense of reality. I think few people that know me would accuse me of having my head in the sky. Probably better to say that I’ve always got an eye towards it and a plan to get there. The plan might be terrible and the sky might be stormy, but go big or go home.

I always try to take the time to appreciate what I have in any given moment. When I returned from the holiday I went on at the beginning of April, I touched on this subject briefly. I try not to let what isn’t or what could have been detract from what is or what was. 

The problem with my optimism, as I’ve observed using my newfound powers of self-awareness, is that irrespective of where I am on the up-down cycle that is day to day life I expect things to be looking up and getting better. For a solid part of the cycle this works really well. When things are generally on the way up, I’m there for the ride. When things aren’t on that part of the trajectory, it can be a little tougher. I want for things to be better, probably expect them to be and it can fuck me up when that doesn’t happen. This is the inexorable consequence of optimism in all things. 

In practical terms of things are trending downwards I’ll be on the lookout for things to be getting better. I’ll be working to that end, mine is a belligerent optimism not a blind one, but it can catch me seriously off guard if things continue downwards despite my efforts. Once things have got as bad as they are going to get, I’m pretty well ready to dust myself off and get back on the right path again. Rock bottom can be a pretty solid place to kick off from, but the journey there can be pretty rough. Particularly so if you make it more difficult than it needs to be. 

Optimism and things going well is a powerful combination, gets to feeling like there’s enough momentum behind you that you are unstoppable. Part of life’s ups and downs cycle means that there have to be transition moments. Whilst optimism can set up you pretty well to switch positively, it can be a real hindrance when things start to go bad. It can make the disconnect between expectation and reality that much more severe, bring you back down to earth with more of a bump. C’est la vie. 

The thing I’ve been starting to wonder about recently is the line that seems to appear once you push optimism far enough. I speak of course of the line between perseverance and stupidity. Between optimism and idiocy. At what point does something once noble and inspiring become warped into something deplorable and to be avoided?

This would make for a very different story

Consider Sisyphus. Put to the side for a moment that his task was imposed by the gods. He can face that task in two ways. A challenge to be overcome or as something to find a way out of. If we assume he faced his punishment stoically and accepted that it could be beaten, he can be seen as a tragic figure that persevered against all odds or as an idiot that simply didn’t know when to give up. When is that line crossed? Is it that straightforward?

Full of self belief? Or just a moron? I

Monty Python’s Black Knight is a great comedic character in my eyes. Bloody minded optimism to the point of sheer insanity. Most days I think it’s commendable. As Futurama teaches us, when things are hopeless is when you need hope the most. More and more I find myself wondering if it’s actually just moronic. Rather than being a paragon of determination and will to win, is he just a bit slow to realise that he’s been beaten?

The strength and also weakness of heavy booted, loud optimism is that it can drown out a lot of potentially useful information around it. The little clues that individually don’t mean much, but taken together paint a picture that something just isn’t going to work. Sometimes what is needed is actually a little less blind hope and a little more attention to the reality of the situation. 

Proceeding with a plan despite solid evidence that it could fail is optimistic. Proceeding with the same plan multiple times even though it has failed every time before is just idiotic. Or is it. The problem the optimist has is that he ?ill pick himself up, dust himself off and charge ahead again with the thought that somehow this time things will be different. 

This is a complicated one for me to deal with, and I don’t think I’ve reached a satisfactory conclusion with it yet. Sometimes things don’t work out for the best. I’ll be damned if I don’t charge head long at a wall a few more times before I realise it though.

Alex

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