Since I'm supposed to post something "optimistic" on Fridays, it behooves me to start searching a day or two early. And while wandering through the Internets this evening in search of glad tidings, I started thinking about the difference between hope and optimism.
"Optimism" sets my teeth on edge, frankly. It seems less like a virtue than a stance, less like a vision than a scheme, and I've also noticed how often it serves as a club with which to beat up one's opponents. There always seems to be a touch of the bully in the optimist, and - God knows - of the optimist in the bully.
When I was in grade school, a teacher (who probably should've been teaching us set theory or something) held a glass of water aloft, and asked each of us to say whether it was half empty or half full. When he asked me, I said, "If you fill it halfway, it's half full. If you fill it all the way and drink half, it's half empty."
The answer seemed logical to me. But needless to say, it proved I was not only a pessimist who wouldn't 'fess up, but a cynic and a troublemaker to boot.
The point is, that was when I first realized that I live in a country where it's considered worthwhile to classify people as optimists or pessimists, and where "nuance" was more likely to earn you a kick in the slats than anything else.
I never did manage to accept optimism or pessimism as the One True Faith, so I guess I'm stuck somewhere between despair and hope. I have to admit, there's something to be said for certain kinds of despair. It occasionally involves clearheaded thinking, and can be useful to the extent that it burns away counterproductive illusions. Despairing of winning the lottery, for instance, is sensible, productive despair, and ought to be encouraged.
On the left, there's sometimes a tendency to romantic despair, the kind that ponders the dissolution of the flesh smugly, with one eye on the mirror, and is proud to have a bleaker view of the future than the next person.
That's not an affliction of mine, thank heavens. I find that I have hope even when I don't particularly want it. There are times when it seems more like a burden than anything else, simply because you know it's not going to allow you to give up your ideals, or your efforts to live in accordance with them, or your faith that something good may yet come of those efforts.
As I said after Bush's win in November:
If you're not deaf to your own conscience, if you wouldn't steal from a poor man, if you wouldn't drop bombs on children for money, if you would rather tell the truth than lie...then you have infinitely more reason to rejoice today than the men who won this election.By the same token, if you have any patriotism, morality, or wisdom, you have far more reason to rejoice today than the dead-eyed lickspittles who confirmed the appointment of Alberto Gonzales. When I see how many Americans have chosen to devote a portion of their lives - and whatever was left of the hearts - to spouting lunatic excuses for torture, I certainly can't feel optimistic. But I remain hopeful. Some people do tire of ugliness, after all....especially when they become ugly enough to frighten themselves. It happens.
In any case, I do believe I'll change my little weekly tradition to "Friday Hope Blogging." The hell with optimism. It's coin of the realm in Bushworld, and it doesn't buy anything I want.