Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Neither an optimist nor a pessimist be

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After my talk last week, I was asked whether I was optimistic about the future for sustainable schools (or at least positive).  My response was my stock one with such queries, that I thought that optimism and pessimism were morally degenerate states, with the former even more reprehensible than the latter.

Optimism, it seems to me, risks leading to a "something will turn up" mentality; and pessimism to a "there's nothing to be done" one.  The result can be equally dire – action paralysis.  The Devil's Dictionary is instructive:

OPTIMISMn. The doctrine, or belief, that everything is beautiful, including what is ugly, everything good, especially the bad, and everything right that is wrong. It is held with greatest tenacity by those most accustomed to the mischance of falling into adversity, and is most acceptably expounded with the grin that apes a smile. Being a blind faith, it is inaccessible to the light of disproof — an intellectual disorder, yielding to no treatment but death. It is hereditary, but fortunately not contagious.

Later in the Dictionary, we find the following:

A pessimist applied to God for relief.  "Ah, you wish me to restore your hope and cheerfulness," said God. "No," replied the petitioner, "I wish you to create something that would justify them."  "The world is all created," said God, "but you have overlooked something — the mortality of the optimist."

Quite so.  But so much better to be a meliorist – a word that's probably too positive to be in the Dictionary to cope with: the idea that the world can be made better through concerted human effort.  In that sense, I am positive.

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