I consider myself a realist. Don’t we all? I recall a comment someone made to me a number of years ago. She considered herself to be a spiritually positive person. She read and followed all the right spiritual gurus, in her option. As we were talking, I used the word reality. She told me that was negative. Really? I haven’t quite figured out why I saw conflict between her negative view of reality; and her positive, optimistic thinking, but she didn’t see an inconsistency at all. I didn’t understand then and don’t now. In fact, if she considers herself to be a positive person, but sees reality as negative, I must conclude that she’s not only a pessimist, but she is in denial about it. She may have been Pollyannaish. Believing in a positive outcome and things will work out for the best in the end is fine. But even being absurdly optimistic is not the same as seeing reality as negative.
According to Bill Bryson, the terms optimistic and pessimistic “should be used to describe a general outlook rather than a specific view….” Some people have changed the ending of old tales to “and they lived happily ever after.” Is that more optimistic or positive than “…happily for their remaining years.”? Both are positive outcomes. One has a realistic limit, but it is still good. Having positive thoughts is good and often leads to improved results, but better words (still leaning on Bryson) might be hopeful or confident. They’re optimistic, but fit better with the specific situation and the level of consequence for most daily encounters.
I like to think of myself as a realistic-optimist. (If a presidential candidate can be a democratic-socialist, then there is precedent for my claim.) But I have interesting discussions with people who would say that I am negative or pessimistic because I foresee less than desirable outcomes if reality is not respected. Most of us seem to have good days and bad. Assuming that they will all be good henceforth is denial of reality. We will continue to have natural and man-made disasters. That is reality. Making preparations for emergencies so that we can have the best possible outcome is optimism. Doing nothing is denial that often leads to further disaster.
I believe that a balanced outlook is the key to a healthy life and a healthy world. We need not assume the worst, but blocking out, or ignoring, the inevitable is not being optimistic. It is being foolish.