Time Magazine intrigued with its cover story- The Science of Optimism. Can optimism be a science? Research seems to indicate that human beings are wired for positive outcomes. If they weren’t, how would those early individuals have even taken those intrepid steps to leave behind their cave sanctuaries for the daunting unknown?
It is rational to be prepared for risk. Life menaces with dangers and the probability that a million unseen variables conspire for catastrophe. Yet, by and large what makes news is the norm of routine being breached- the rogue wave from the sea, the rebellious tectonic plate in the earth’s crust, the singular transport disaster in the logbook of uneventful journeys, the medical treatment that backfires. As a species, we are inclined to expect and accept things working out. The rest are aberrations that we assume won’t ordinarily happen to us.
This pragmatic attitude struck me forcefully the very next day after I read the article. I was seated in an airplane all ready to zoom for the skies. A sudden onslaught of bad weather restricted visibility on the runway. The airline decided to delay take-off. Given the likelihood of continued bad weather, a flight cancellation was possible.
The airline surely deserved approval for putting passenger safety first. But there was a collective murmur of dismay and a rustle of impatience. The passengers clearly had important things to do at their destinations. I was one of those who had a taut schedule all planned out. The airline’s cautious approach was an annoyance in the urge to do things, powered by the optimism that nothing would go wrong. Not even the gory air mishap in the recent past at that very airport prompted circumspection. I personally regretted not being on an airline with a more daredevil approach to the weather. One wanted to be airborne at the earliest, to get on with life. The article floated back to memory in all its insight.
Quite apart from the science of optimism, there’s also the philosophy of optimism that is a billion dollar publishing industry- the belief that we can shape our realities purely from the positive tenor of our thoughts. In that instance, evolutionary optimism might have fused with the energies of all those who might have forcefully imaged for improved weather. The cloud over the airport emptied itself or perhaps drifted elsewhere. Our aircraft soon soared to clear skies.
The sanguine spirit may often be heedless of its own safety, to do the foolhardy in the facile assumption of good outcomes. It has served as a survival strategy for a species’ capacity to adapt, but on an off-chance it could be a prescription for doom. Nevertheless, I for one believe there’s little to be lost in hazarding life’s
many obstacles or challenges with a hopeful heart.