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A Few Thoughts on Pessimism vs Optimism

March 20, 2020

Part of a new series. See A Few Thoughts on Crisis and A Few Thoughts on Emotional Decisions for more.

Tense situations seduce into two camps.

Some become pessimistic. “We’re doomed!” The pessimist is a stickler for staring down the barrel of the pain of reality.

Others become optimistic. “We’ll be fine!” The optimist hovers above the surface of reality, forever floating on clouds of potential and possibility.

Both stances have their virtues. But they are both avoidant, too.

If we get bogged down in the reality of today, we become paralyzed and corrosively cynical about tomorrow.

And if we cling only to dreams of future possibility, we become irrelevantly idealistic and blind to the reality of where we are now.

Both options pull us out of the action.

So, we are called to stand in what Parker Palmer calls the tragic gap.

In the tragic gap, we have one foot planted in the realism of today, and the other foot planted in the future we want to create.

As the name implies, it’s not easy to stand here. There is a constant tension, between the stark reality unfolding and the dream of a better future that isn’t guaranteed to come.

Those who stand in the tragic gap play with this tension. They own it. They take responsibility for being the bridge between today and tomorrow, a vessel through which a better future can unfold.

The deeper one stands in the tragic gap, the more tension there is.

The more tension there is, the greater the change that can occur.

Seldom has there been a better time to stand in the tragic gap.

Seldom has there been a better time to be a vessel for taking the next step.

This is the moment.


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