Optimist, Pessimist or Realist

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Are you an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I have a good friend who always says that he leans towards being a “guy whose glass is half-full.”  I guess he is a pessimist.  I know I am married to an optimist, because whenever I say anything negative about anyone, she will provide a contrasting optimistic perspective.  I tend to believe that I lean towards pessimism.  I like to think that I am a realist.  When someone asks me if my glass is half-full or half-empty my answer will depend on whether my glass is being filled up or emptied.  Nevertheless, I suspect many would find that my blogs reflect a rather negative view of life and humanity.

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Climate Change:

Pessimist: “The end is near; the end is near.  We have destroyed the world with carbon pollution, and it is too late to do anything about it.  Nature magazine published a study which shows that Global Warming stated as early as 1830 CE.”

Optimist: “There is still time to do something about climate change.  Humanity has faced disasters before, and we always overcome them.  They thought that we would destroy ourselves with nuclear weapons, but we learned to use other strategies to deal with our differences.”

Realist: “Maybe we have just been lucky.”

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Corrupt Government:

Pessimist:  Politicians since the days of Plato and Socrates have always been corrupt.  There is no such thing as an honest politician.  Lying comes naturally to all politicians and the truth is only an inconvenience for most of them.  Politicians have become worse and worse over the years in terms of lacking morality and ethics.  They will always do what is expedient and they are all amoral.”

Optimist: “How can you make such a blanket generalization?  There have been many good politicians and many or them are very honest and moral.  Look at Marcus Aurelius, Rómulo Betancourt, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela, Lee Kuan Yew, Jimmy Carter, and Muhammadu Buhari.  These men were all honest leaders who fought for the welfare of their people and did it selflessly.  They were capable, incorruptible leaders who made a real difference in the lives of their followers.

Realist: “You win some and you lose some.  On the whole, it would seem that we have more leaders like Trump than we do leaders like Gandhi.”

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Education:

Pessimist: “Pouring money into education is a waste of time.  Kids are learning less today than they did in the early days of public education.  Half the kids in school are bored.  Teacher turnover is at an all time high and classrooms are chaotic.  Parents do not support teacher discipline anymore.  Schools have become jails for most students who would rather be home.  Kids today do not see the value in education because parents do not.  Schools are just factories for the more privileged to come out and get the high paying jobs in society while the rest of the pack will work for Walmart or McDonalds.”

Optimist: “We live in a more educated society today then even twenty years ago.  Education has been responsible for raising the standard of living the world over.  People are living longer than ever because of scientific advances in hygiene, medicine, and public health.  Without education, we would still be dying in our mid-forties instead of in our mid-seventies.  Kids today learn different things then when we were in school.  They are more visually literate, and computers have been a new tool that students today are using to change the world for the better.”

Realist: “We seem to take two steps forward and one back.  For every pro about education today, there is a con.  For every pro about technology there is a con.  We need to have a broader perspective on change that will enable us to embrace new ideas and let go of old ideas that no longer work.”  We simply keep adding pages to school textbooks without taking any out.”

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I could go on and on with examples of the quite different outlooks that life provides us.  Who is right?  I doubt that we will ever really know.  Many of the old sayings exist to provide us with some direction on how to live.  A friend of mine tried to convince me that writing should be positive and inspirational.  His motto was, “You catch more flies with sugar than with vinegar.”  According to my friend, people will ignore writing that is too dismal and negative.  It is his opinion that writers should provide a path forward to growth and development.  I told another friend the other day that “hope without action is hopeless.”  It is not enough to just hope for change, you need to do something about it.  I like to think that my writings provide a path forward.

Nevertheless, we are all familiar with the concept of being too “Pollyannish.”  Someone who is too Pollyannish always sees the positive in everything.  Pushing the envelope on optimism they become extremists who see a bright spot in every dark endeavor.  We sometimes refer to these people as wearing “rose colored” glasses.  A realist would argue that sometimes a bright spot does not exist.

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My writing instructor, Dr. Wedin informed our class a few weeks ago that the story of Pollyanna, a 1913 novel written by American author Eleanor H. Porter, has been grossly misrepresented.  In common usage, a Pollyannish person is someone who is too unrealistic about life and its difficulties.  I decided to watch one of the many movies based on the novel and found a quite different interpretation of young Miss Pollyanna.  One that I assume was more in line with the novel.  In the movie, Pollyanna is a young girl who faces her share of joys and unhappiness.  However, remembering what her father told her, she always tries to find a bright spot in life regardless of how difficult things may be going for her.  Pollyanna’s philosophy of life centers on what she calls “The Glad Game,” an optimistic and positive attitude she learned from her father.

As a man who has leaned strongly towards pessimism for most of my life, I found myself admiring Pollyanna’s attitude and efforts.  They say pessimists live longer lives but optimists live happier lives.  There is something about pessimism that wears one down and tires others out.  Friends, family, spouses, siblings, and children all have a difficult time being around someone who is relentlessly pessimistic.  Just as hope without action is useless, pessimism without a plan to change things is depressing, gloomy and dreary.  Would you rather be around a pessimist or an optimist?

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But what about our third choice?  Would you want to choose a realist for a life partner?  Is this the Golden Mean that the Greeks worshipped?  I think not.  The problem with being a so-called realist is twofold.  The first problem is that realism must be based on a foundation of facts and evidence.  Herein, you can immediately understand the problem.  It is difficult if not impossible to obtain evidence that will prove irrefutable and reliable.  Life is full of lies, half-truths, unsubstantiated facts and impossible to find evidence.

The second problem with realism is that it is not useful without a path forward or some means of making sense out of reality.  Knowing reality is meaningless if you cannot do something about it.  Finding the best path forward always involves a number of decisions that go beyond the facts.  For instance, if I decide that my car needs a new engine, will it be more cost effective to purchase a replacement engine or buy a new car?  You might be able to work out an equation to make this decision, but I guarantee you that there will be several unknowns in your equation.  Every unknown impacts the outcome of your decision making.  Then of course, there are what we call “unintended consequences.”  Charting the unknown, even realists must go into mysterious territory.

So we arrive back to where we started.  Would you rather be an optimist, pessimist, or realist?  I would love to hear your comments on this question.  Please feel free to send me a reply.

Only send optimistic comments though.  😊

3494– Monday, October 7, 2019 — Can We Really Grow Old Gracefully? – Part 2

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This is the continuation of an article I started which might have been called the “Top Ten Attributes for Growing Old Gracefully.”  In Part 1, I described attributes 1 through 5.  I also noted that two of my very good friends had been ill for some time and were not expected to live out the year.  One of these good friends, died two days after I published Part 1 of this article.  He was a unique individual about whom I wrote the following to some common friends the day after he died:

“I will always remember Sam for his brilliance and intellectual rigor.  I do not think I have ever met anyone with a greater knowledge of the world than Sam.  He was my first mentor out of graduate school, and I learned almost all I know about consulting from the work that we did together at International Nickel in Canada.  He was kind and gracious to a fool that knew little or nothing about the consulting world.  Over the years, we had our ups and downs, but Sam always helped me when I was in need of advice or guidance.”

“The world is truly less of a place for me and many others without Sam.” 

I must say a word about the validity and reliability of the ideas that I am presenting here.  I believe in them with my whole heart and soul.  Everything about life that I have learned up to this point says that they are the keys to a happy old age.  A friend whom I have found since writing my blogs left a comment in Part 1 where she said: “I hope you are following this excellent advice, John!  I replied: “Jane, I wish I could honestly say that I always do but that is not always the case.”

For me, I am somewhat like the alcoholic with good intentions who occasionally falls off the bandwagon.  Looking at each of these attributes, I have good days and bad.  But somehow, I climb back up out of whatever is bothering me, and I start again.  I have days when I am not grateful or have very little sense of humor.  I have days when I can find no joy in life and days when I can find no purpose or meaning in what I am doing.  But I know that “this too will pass” and that it is important not to give up.  Growing old is a journey that only ends when it will be too late for you to do anything about it.  But as long as we are alive, we can do our best to enjoy the journey.  So, here are the rest of the key attributes that will help you grow old gracefully and enjoy the trip.  Following are attributes six through ten.

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  1. Kindness

This is a simple one.  Do something kind for someone each day.  Make someone else happy by sharing your good fortune, knowledge, skills or abilities with another.  It is often easier said than done though.  We get so busy with our own problems that it is easy to forget the needs of those around us.  Very few people will wake up today and jump out of bed with joy at being alive.  For many people, the kind word or deed that you can do for them will give them the strength to live another day or to have a day with joy and happiness.

A funny thing happened to me this afternoon while I was on my way to see a play called Pipeline at Penumbra Theater in St. Paul.  An old rumpled homeless looking man on a bicycle asked if I could give him a few bucks for a meal.  I was feeling generous, so I pulled out my wallet and took a peek in it.  I had a five, a twenty and three one-dollar bills.  I grabbed the fiver and handed it to the old man.  He took it and thanked me, and I impulsively decided to give him another single.  He took the second bill I gave him and let out a rather exuberant exclamation of thanks and gave both me and Karen hugs.

He set off down the street and said that he was heading right to McDonald’s to get a meal to eat.  I was still surprised at his extreme gratefulness.  Later on, when I went to look in my wallet for some money to pay for some stuff, I found that I still had the three singles but no twenty.  I suddenly realized why the old feller had been so ecstatic.  I had given him the five-dollar bill and the twenty-dollar bill.  I could have kicked myself in the butt.  I told Karen about my unexpected generosity and we both laughed and wondered what he was going to get to eat for the money we gave him.  I felt a little stupid giving this much money away but on the other hand, how many times have I wasted three or four times this amount on some impulse purchase that I did not really need.  It felt good knowing that I had made somebodies day a little brighter even if it was by accident.

“Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight.  Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.” — Og Mandino

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  1. Physical Fitness

What is the secret to living a long and health life?  Ask anyone who fits this qualification and who is in their nineties and do you know what they will say?  “Keep moving!”  “Keep moving!”  Stay active!  Garden, run, swim, bicycle, play Pickleball, walk, do Zumba, do Yoga, do anything but keep your body moving!

I have talked about the need for an exercise plan in many of my other blogs.  You have a choice.  If you live long enough and stay somewhat reasonably fit, then like our friend Joan, you can still play golf when you are ninety.  Or you can sit all day watching TV and become more and more dependent on walkers and canes and surgeries for your ailing joints.  Some of the problems of old age are unavoidable but some are due to a lack of good nutrition and good exercise.  Keep all things in moderation.  You will not be an Arnold Schwarzenegger at 80 but you can still be healthy enough to take trips and spend active time outdoors.  The key?  Right!  Keep moving!

For me, I love having an exercise plan that will adapt to my changing circumstances and that is fun.  If you are interested in more information on developing an exercise plan, see my blog at:  How Can We Set Realistic Exercise Goals as We Age?

“Those who think they have no time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.” — Edward Stanley

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  1. Friendships

There is a story told about Thomas Jefferson who supposedly attended a fiftieth anniversary party for the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1826.  According to the story, Jefferson was not recognized by anyone at the party.  He was one of only three surviving members of the original signers who were still alive.  The other two being John Adams and Charles Carroll.  Jefferson died on July 4th, 1826 as did John Adams, so I am not sure when the party was actually held.  Nevertheless, Jefferson is reported to have said that he felt like a ghost.  That he felt like someone living in a time when he no longer belonged.

This story made an impact on me since as we age, we see more and more of our loved ones, relatives and friends pass away.  In the picture (top of blog) taken at a wedding for my father’s youngest sister, I am standing to the right in the picture.  The wedding was held in 1957.  The most remarkable thing about this photo (For me anyway) is that I am the only one left alive in the photo.  My sister died of lung cancer several years ago and my two cousins in the photo both passed away.  One died of a stroke and the other died younger of suicide.

My Aunt Mary, who is on the right in the picture, (She was my Godmother) died at the age of 103 about four years ago.  She too outlived almost everyone in the photo except me.  She outlived two of her sons and her husband who are in the picture.  I asked my Aunt a few years before she died if she felt like she no longer belonged and that her time had passed.  Her answer surprised me.  She said “No.”  I asked how she managed, and she told me that you must keep making friends.  She said that she had made many new friends who cared about her and helped enrich her life.  Could this be how she made it to 103 years of age?

The attribute of “Friendship” was mentioned at the Caregiver Conference I attended as one of the most important factors for a happy old age.  We cannot bury ourselves in pity or sorrow for the past.  Life must go on.  As someone said: “Life is for the living.”  You are never too old to make new friends.

“If you go looking for a friend, you’re going to find they’re very scarce.  If you go out to be a friend, you’ll find them everywhere.” — Zig Ziglar

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  1. Pain Management

Yes, you better believe it.  Pain management is a key attribute of growing old gracefully.  The older you get, the more pains you will have.  You will have pain and if you cannot deal with it, life will be one endless day of misery.  The sad fact is that people seem to only know two ways to deal with pain.  The first is to see a doctor who will often prescribe surgery.  The second is similar, you go to see a doctor, only in this case, the doctor prescribes some sort of pain killer.  If you want to know what is causing the pain, which should be the first step towards any diagnosis or remedy, the doctor will be very reluctant to order a Ct scan or MRI due to the cost of such diagnostics.  He/she might do some blood tests or other tests that will probably not tell you very much.

More than likely though, your doc will just tell you that the cause of your pain is “Old Age” and your remedy is to live with it.  The older you are, the more likely the latter will be your diagnosis and prescription.  A few years ago (until the opioid epidemic which doctors and pharmaceutical companies created), they would probably have given you an abundant supply of Oxycontin or Vicodin and told you to go home and swallow a pill.

Now the first step towards pain management is preventive.  You guessed it.  Exercise and weight control.  However, even with diligent exercise you will encounter problems.  The chronic pain treatment diagram (I have included above) is one that best fits my ideas of how we should deal with pain.  You start with the lowest possible tier with the least side effects and you work up.  You do not immediately accept that surgery is the solution.  There are more surgeries done in this country that are unneeded than I can count.  If you doubt my assertion, then see my blog on the subject where I have written about the epidemic of surgeries which serve only to make more money for doctors.  “Should we be cautious when seeing our family doctor?”

I could tell you true story after true story of pains that I have dealt with over the years.  Yes, I had prostate surgery and hernia surgery.  These required invasive medical procedures and some respite from exercising.  But I have had Plantar Fasciitis, Sesamoiditis, Morton’s Neuroma, knee pain, hip pain, shoulder pain, back pain and several other neuromuscular pains.  I have not had surgery for any of these.  While several of these problems managed to derail my exercise program for some months, I have managed to deal with each of these without surgery and am still running and exercising regularly.

In all cases, I have used the pain management continuum as noted above.  Starting with diagnosis (sometimes seeing a doctor but often doing research on the web) and moving up to the first level of diet, exercise and nutrition.  My second level would include OTC drugs, lotions like Tiger Balm or now CBD cream and diet supplements like Glucosamine and Turmeric.  I have managed to avoid opioids except in one case of dental problems where some implants became infected.  My second level also includes things like knee braces and elbow braces to help stabilize the joint until the inflammation went away.  My favorite second tier cure is a great massage which if I appear to be in enough pain, my spouse will usually proffer.  A massage will not cure the pain, but it helps to alleviate the pain and with other pain management techniques can speed recover.

I will not say anymore about pain management except to be wary of surgery until you have exhausted other less invasive possibilities.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of physical pain, with a lot of emotional pain; anybody’s who’s ever been an alcoholic has handled both of those in extreme.” — Jason Isbell

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  1. Hope and Optimism

I have saved these two attributes for graceful aging for last.  I believe these are essential for a happy and complete life.  I also believe they are the most difficult to acquire and maintain.  How can we be optimistic or have hope when death surrounds us and is the most inevitable fact of our lives?  What is there to be hopeful for when your friends and loved ones are dying and you see a future where you are left alone?  Sounds pretty bleak doesn’t it?

They say hope springs eternal in the human breast but a simple observation of the people you know, will tell you that is a lie.  People give up hope when they are continually beaten down by the daily toil and challenges of life.  It should be a great deal easier to be optimistic when you are twenty than when you are eighty, but I doubt whether hope and optimism are linked to aging.  (True, the suicide rate for the aged is very high, but some of that may reflect practicality rather than hopelessness. The suicide rate for teenagers is nearly as high as that for the aged.)  The simple fact is that some people are more optimistic than others.  Some are more hopeful than others.

But hope and optimism are a choice we each can make in how to see life.

I can’t tell you what your hope should be.  My hope is that my writing will help you to lead a better life. I am hopeful that something I say and someone who reads what I say will find some value in my ideas.

I can’t tell you what to be optimistic about.  I am optimistic about my trip to Russia this coming year.  It will be a new adventure and I will go again with my spouse to our 40th new country.  I have always dreamed of taking an express train across Europe and we are going to take the Paris to Moscow Express for our trip into Russia.  There are a million things that could go wrong between now and then, but what gain do I have from being negative and pessimistic?

Find your hope and find your optimism.  Perhaps they will change each day but without them, your life will be like a life without sunshine

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

 

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