Monday, May 16, 2011

Four Types of Optimists: Three of Whom I Can't Stand

In my (Admittedly limited) experience, there are four types of optimists. Three of these types are insufferable. Allow me to break them down.
Type #1 is the naive optimist. It seems only natural they would be optimists, because nothing bad has ever happened to them. They're the transient optimists though, because it isn't going to take much to shake them out of optimism, and when they crash and burn, it will be a real spectacle as they go down, unfortunately. I somewhat pity this type of optimist, because I know what's in store for them. Most often seen in college freshmen.
Type #2 is the oblivious optimist. Sure, bad things happen to them. But Lemony Snicket captured this type of optimist perfectly, saying that: 'If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, "Well, this isn't too bad. I don't have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed," but most of us would say something more along the lines of "Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!"' This type is irritating, sure, mainly because their attempts to cheer you up are absolutely unhelpful and infuriating to boot. Think Igor saying, "Could be worse. Could be raining." Most often seen in mild types who are somewhat selfless, but could be described as a bit of a cloud cuckoolander.
Type #3 is the worst optimist of all. It's the "pearl clutching" optimist. Rather than blithely acknowledging the bad things, this optimist goes through every hoop possible to avoid the unpleasantness of life. If this optimist were a 19th century Russian novel, it would be The Death of Ivan Ilych. PCOs are hideously insecure, and often have some history of trauma from childhood that makes them terrified of unpleasant things, confrontation, or anything less than constant merry-sunshine happiness. These are the optimists who squeal at you to, "Oh my god, stop posting stories about the Congo, that's so depressing!" These are the ones who can always cite sources on how happiness helps people live longer, but are unwilling to scratch the surface and wonder why it is some groups are more "happy" than others, and the role that oppression plays in determining one's happiness. PCOs are, at their very core, selfish. Their optimism stems from a sheer willingness to ignore the unhappiness of everyone else in order to ensure their own. Most often seen in cowards, that one person who runs away or starts trying laughably ineffective ways to stop a minor squabble, or that one friend who says zie's too busy to worry about the world.
And finally, Type #4 is the one optimist whom I can happily spend time around. This optimist is no stranger to agony, either that of hir own experience or others. Rather than trying to run away from it, ignore it, or gloss over it though, Type #4, the survivor optimist, acknowledges that pain and suffering, and asks, "What can I do to alleviate this?" or "How can I make sure that nobody ever goes through what I did?" Survivor optimists are aware of the never ending battle that awaits them, and what the stakes are for their cause. But they keep at it, because they care so deeply about it. Even when it seems like all is lost, the survivor optimist holds out. What distinguishes this optimist is that they don't passively wait for things to get better. Their hands and hearts are dirty with their dedication to righting wrongs.
Most often seen in activists, progressive bloggers, advocates, volunteers, and their ilk.


  1. Oooh I like number four too. Optimists. Oh they hurt. I have a stubborn carebear inside me that will save the world from misery and evil and despair (so it thinks) and sometimes I just have to be gleeful and play because the tragedy of life is so overwhelming. At the heart, I believe this world is unbearable and that we must carry each other.

    I also believe that sometimes, in the darkest hour, some laughter can relieve the pain that threatens to destroy the light, and maybe remind us to have hope even when all logic and reason dictate there is absolutely no real reason to hold on to hope.

    I enjoyed this post! In general, people who post about happiness causing longevity and how everyone must grin and put on a good face and life is HAPPY make me want to barf. For a long time. Uuuugggh. : ) Get your nasty optimism away from me jerkwad! LOL!!!!!

    Cheerio! LOL

  2. Ahahahahaha!!! I loved this post!! Optimist #3 sounds like you were describing my sister in law!!! **shudders**

    I like optimist #4 too!

  3. I agree with the entire post, except this: ""How can I make sure that nobody ever goes through what I did?". Saviors and benefactors of humanity are a lot scarier, in my opinion, than any brand of optimist. To give an example, my father flips out very every single bite of food he sees me take because he was teased for being fat at the age of 8. His explanation is that he is trying to prevent me from being fat so that I never have to go through what he did. I keep explaining that I'm 35 and when I go to school nobody makes fun of me because I'm a professor. But he keeps trying to improve my life against my will.

  4. I hadn't considered that point of view, Clarissa, but you are right to a degree. Personally though, if I had been in your father's shoes, I would be more one to think "How can I make sure that it's not considered acceptable to tease people based on weight so my kids don't get teased, whatever they weigh?" So there are different ways of approaching it, some more agreeable than others.

  5. I suspect that one can connect each of these types of optimism, particularly the first three to neurotypicals, who often use optimism to beat us on the spectrum over the head. :)