Positively Pessimistic?


I know that I have harped incessantly on Jeff Olson's challenge in The Slight Edge--i.e., Read 10 pages of a classic, inspiring, self-development book each day and in a year you will have read, absorbed and acted upon the wisdom of ten to twelve books written by successful individuals-- but it makes so much sense to me!

Now, if you want to start the New Year with a couple of really inspiring books, how about books about climbing mountains? Good metaphor, that. But what about books by the only blind person to have climbed the "Seven Summits", the highest peaks on each continent? That would be Erik Weihenmayer, author of The Adversity Advantage and Touch the Top of the World. You can read excerpts and get these books at Erik's Touch the Top.com website.

One of the excerpts on the site tells of how a climbing partner deals with some of the frustrations of these grueling climbs. He uses something he has dubbed "positive pessimism". It operates, as far as I can tell, along the same line as the old "two negatives make a positive" theory ("She don't gots no dogs" is grammatically translated as "She gots dogs".)

Positive pessimism requires a pretty advanced sense of the absurd. Confine your practice of it (as with all negatives) to times of dark adversity, and with a companion who can link into the pathos with the same sense of humour as you. Here are some examples of Positive Pessimism from Erik's second book, The Adversity Advantage:

On Aconcagua, I had just struggled to the 22,841-foot summit. I was barely hanging in there. Chris gave me a big hug and croaked, "Big E, you may be blind . . . but at least you're slow!" As hammered as I was, I laughed and shot back with, "Chris, you're not the nicest guy in the world . . . but at least you're stupid."

I have seen people use positive pessimism in all aspects of life. Once a guy was hiking with me in Colorado and was struggling to keep the pace. From behind me I heard him say, "I may be fat . . . but at least I'm old."

How about a well placed positive pessimism in the office? "I'm going into a three hour meeting . . . but at least I didn't have time to eat lunch." Or: "We didn't get that big account . . . but at least our stock price went down." At home, try this one: "Honey we're on a real tight budget . . . but at least our heating bill doubled." Or: "We may be moving into a smaller house . . . but at least your mother is coming to live with us."


I love these examples of scathing wit, a private joke between two intimate friends. I will, however, be cautious not to use 'positive pessimism' myself, since my neuro-pathways are still somewhat rutted by a cynical humor that hurt me and others more than it inspired or uplifted. Just as I occasionally get a kick out of watching drunks portrayed in movies (Dudley Moore in "Arthur" being my favorite), I have no desire to go down that road again myself, although I did have some uproariously funny experiences.

I am going to get hold of Erik Weihenmayer's books-- I think they would also make excellent Christmas gifts to be savoured into the New Year, that time of universal 'good intention' and positivity.

1 comment:

Atif said...

Great. I'm going to check out the site for some books.