Have You Heard the One About the Optimist and the Pessimist?

News & Politics

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? And what does our attitude have to do with making change? Well, to do the work needed to change the world for the better requires a belief that a better world is possible. Sounds like a job for an optimist.

At AlterNet, we recently polled our editorial staff and found that we could all use an optimism booster shot. On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being the most optimistic, our average was below four. What score would you give yourself?

We're not alone, of course. Across the country, pessimism is beating optimism by quite a margin. According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll, "Americans have lost faith in both political parties; do not feel confident about the present or the future; 61% feel as though the country is in the midst of a severe decline, while 35% don't, a whopping 26% spread."

Because our job is to tell you about what's happening in the world, we tend to publish a lot of bad news, sometimes without offering any solutions. This reminds me of the Oscar Wilde quote: "Pessimist: one who, when he has the choice of two evils, chooses both."

I know that isn't so funny, but let's face it: focusing too often on worst-case scenarios disempowers us.

It's time to change our attitudes.

So we decided to change our ways. From here on out, we will do our best to highlight ideas that can help us change the world for the better. Will you join us? In fact, we have made a commitment to publish at least one positive, visionary article every day. That is our promise to you. Working closely with Change.org, we will add new focus on action campaigns to follow up our articles and videos.

After all, how can we be creative, bold and determined if we are not optimistic? That is our challenge. We must be upbeat as we push for change, support people in need, and fight corporate abuse and the increasingly fanatical right wing. "Optimism is the foundation of courage," writes Nicholas Murray Butler.

Don't worry, we are not becoming Pollyannas. We know how tough things are. We'll still get irate and scream about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Wall Street greed, right-wing extremism and environmental collapse. But we think more balance is important, and apparently you agree.

We've noticed recently that you are attracted to articles that are visionary. AlterNet readers ate up an excerpt from "Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger." The book makes a convincing case that rich market democracies like ours no longer benefit from increasing affluence; a more equal society is better, in many ways, for the rich as well as those less well off. Also recently ranking in our top five most popular articles for the week was an interview with Nobel Laureate Elinor Ostrom (from Yes! Magazine) that argued cooperation, not competition, often works best. Ostrom offers, "We have to think through how to choose a meaningful life where we're helping one another in ways that really help the Earth."

Will you support our new attitude?

As we launch our 2010 fundraising efforts, we also need to be optimistic about winning your support. In 2009, 4,215 members of the AlterNet community -- people like you -- contributed to AlterNet. In 2010, we need to exceed 5,000. Also, we intend to raise $50,000 this spring and immediately put it to use reaching out to the best thinkers in America and across the globe, bringing their ideas to you. We are all in this together. Can we count on you today?

So, are you an optimist or a pessimist? Perhaps you are a realist, or a "possibilist." Personally I'm fond of this quote by Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci: "I'm a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will." It is our will we have to energize to succeed in making the world a better place, now and for the generations that follow.

And remember, the best ideas in the world rarely go anywhere without advocates, spreaders and viral marketers like you. With more than 15,000 Facebook fans, we are building a large group to help us send "think positive" articles to many thousands more.

We hope we have inspired you and you are willing to support us today with a contribution. Every little bit helps. We look forward to hearing your ideas for inspiring, change-making coverage.

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