MAD DOG: A Pessimist's Guide to Optimism

Optimism is highly overrated. And trust me, that's an optimistic statement. There's intense pressure these days to always have a sunny disposition, laugh in the face of adversity, and spout platitudes like "I'm OK, you're OK", "C'est la vie", "Que sera, sera", and "Ob-la-di, ob-la-da." Right, like the Beatles and Doris Day can affect fate.

You can't grumble -- I mean, stumble -- through a day without coming across books, magazine articles, and talk show experts saying we should maintain a permanently cheery outlook on life. According to them, no matter how bad things get we can stop, relax, take a deep breath, visualize world peace, and magically that missing screw that's holding up the family reunion because the new barbecue grill won't go together will magically appear, much like mushrooms popping up after a Phish concert.

Norman Vincent Peale pretty much started it with his book "The Power of Positive Thinking" in which he tries to convince us that reading can make a person feel better than eating a pint of Ben and Jerry's Chubby Hubby. Right. And making a movie out of Rocky and Bullwinkle was a good idea too. What the book did do was make Peale a lot of money, spawn Oprah and Zig Ziglar, and launch a whole new category of books with titles like "Chicken Soup For My Bank Account."

According to its proponents, optimism brings success, friends, and good health while pessimism breeds failure and hairy warts on your nose. Optimists look at pessimists and see the warts on their nose as something they can improve on. Pessimists look at optimists and thank god they found that website that explains how to make an AK-47 out of a broom handle, duct tape, and an old Bobby Goldsborough 8-track.

It's all in how you view things. A case in point: Recently a group of researchers went to the North Pole and discovered that it melted. They say they had to go six miles from the pole before they could find ice thick enough to stand on. To put this in perspective, it's like going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras and having to visit a strip bar to see women pull up their shirts. It just isn't right. Thus the scientists set off the Emergency Global Warming Broadcast System, saying this proves we're driving too many SUVs, creating too much pollution, and that the presidential candidates talk too much, which as we know is a leading source of hot air. Then right on cue Al Gore piped up and reminded us that he invented global warming. And more ice melted. This is what's known as a vicious cycle.

The researchers were taking the pessimist's view, seeing the polar ice cap as half melted. The optimists, on the other hand, would look at it and see it as half frozen. Here's another example: Goodyear and Michelin are teaming up to create a tire you can drive on even after it goes flat. Obviously they're pessimists since they consider this to be a problem. If they were optimists they'd say flat tires are a good thing because they bring the car closer to the ground, lowering the center of gravity and making it less prone to roll over on a sharp turn. In addition, it would make you drive slower so if an accident did happen there would be less damage.

Compare this to Firestone, which is an extremely optimistic company. While everyone who's ever bought a Ford that came with tires is being pessimistic and calling their dealer to see if they can get replacements for free, Firestone is being optimistic and seeing it as an opportunity to figure out how to manufacture tires which don't come apart while you're driving. As the saying goes: some people see the tread as half off, others see it as half on.

Surprisingly, the Russians have turned out to be optimists. This is especially interesting because the price of Vodka is up, Mir keeps trying to fall down, and no one outside of their country can say Putin's name without thinking of breaking wind. First, they were so optimistic they could rescue the submarine Kursk that they told everyone not to bother helping until it was too late. Then when a fire in their main TV tower in Moscow blanked out all broadcasts they claimed it was an opportunity for people to become closer with their families by talking. If this works the next thing you know they'll turn off their TVs for good and sit around reading "Quit Stalin and Build a New You!"

If optimism is anything like the economy, the stock market, and women of child-bearing years, the mood pendulum will soon swing. Sure signs that this is happening will be when books hit the best seller list like "Tuesdays With a Moron" and "Who Cut The Cheese." Then TV shows like "You Don't Really Think You Can Be a Millionaire, Do You?" will fill the airwaves. And motivational seminars will pop up called "The Peril of Positive Thinking." Of course not all of this may happen. I could be half wrong. Or half right. It all depends on how you look at it.

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