Most people think of me as a pessimist. I don’t think that’s quite fair. I prefer to think of myself more like Batman: a contingency plan for every eventual bad situation. Perhaps that I think of them as eventual is what makes it pessimism. Of course not every bad thing that can happen will happen, but I was a Boy Scout – it’s better to be prepared.
I actually fundamentally do not understand optimism, or at least not people who are routinely optimistic. To look at the world and think, “I’m sure everything will work out just fine,” is wild to me. To be clear, I’m not a morose person. I’m actually quite happy in life. I think, “things are probably going to go fairly badly in this situation, but it’ll be fine.”
Last night I played in a rec basketball league with a few friends; some good at basketball, some not. We didn’t know quite what to expect since we were new to the league and playing with one another. Before the game, while we were using duct tape to put numbers on our white undershirts, the other team was running crossfit drills around the gym. When we took the court for warm-up, they automatically formed into layup lines, while we lazily flung balls in the air from wherever we happened to be.
This wasn’t the worst of it either. I, the biggest player on my team, would have been just about the smallest on theirs. Their arms also popped out of their shirts like they were trying to smuggle apples. Something in my pessimistic gut knew before tip-off the game was over. We spent most of the game running after them as they grabbed our airballs and sped past us for one of those layups they had been practicing. We spent the rest of the game musing about whether they looked more like the Mon-stars from Space Jam or the Avengers. They only attempted a few dunks thankfully and at half-time when the ref looked at the score sheet he tried to laugh only to himself.
This is all fine – I got the exercise I was looking for. What I can’t understand is what happened after the game. As we were changing, my teammates were deciding what we needed to improve upon. Communication, team defence, the total lack of talent on our team, the usual. Where it began to fall apart for me was when they started talking about how we could have won.
“They weren’t even that good. If we just talked more we could have shut them down.”
I just laughed at the ravings of one eccentrically delusional teammate. Then another one started in.
“Yeah, we could have beat them if we had a couple more practices and we knew how to play together.” Two more guys quickly agreed. The hysteria was spreading and I couldn’t hold my tongue anymore.
“What are you guys talking about?! They are the best team I’ve ever seen not on TV and I watched the Raptors in person in the early 2000’s.” They stuck to their guns. “You are all crazy,” I insisted. “If we played them every week for the next year and they all had polio, we still would never beat them.” Despite my protests, they weren’t quite convinced.
I wonder what drives people to such delusion; to belief in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I should be able to do what they do. I am a man of faith, I am quite hopeful and joyful about life, and I even suffer from a healthy level of self-belief. And yet, I feel helpless to see the world any other way but soberly. Others, even smart people, seem to imagine that the most likely outcome is the one they are hoping for. There must be a scientific name for that.
Scrolling through Facebook today, I saw two such believers. One wondered why he faced such opposition to his research. He listed possibilities that he found likely: was it because people were racist? Was it because he had a different way of thinking about his field? My question is whether or not he considered that he could just be wrong. Maybe so many are shooting down his way of thinking because they think it’s absurd. The other, a performer, said after 100 closed doors, she finally found one that was open. Now it could be that that is just how the industry works, but after 100 you might ponder whether or not they might be onto something. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong; maybe she’s the Beatles. But if it were me, I would have at least needed to weigh the odds that I didn’t have the chops.
The age old question: is the glass half full or half empty? Put it another way and it’s something I imagine that it has occurred to each of us subliminally: is a good day one in which something good happens to us, or do we only need a day when nothing bad happens? I’m more than satisfied with the latter. I think there is some secret to happiness in there. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I expect the worst, but if it looks like there is a crap storm on the horizon, I at least grab an umbrella. If you are the type to think the clouds are full of sprinkles, I would advise you to at least keep from sticking your tongue out until you know one way or the other.