“Don't ever become a pessimist, Ira; a pessimist is correct oftener than an optimist, but an optimist has more fun--and neither can stop the march of events.” - Robert A. Heinlein
Today the Mariners played a baseball game. It was bad. It was really, really bad, the kind of bad that robs you of language to describe it, and coupled with last night’s effort it was horrid. I am not going to describe this game to you. It does not merit that, and you don’t deserve to be subjected to it. The pitching was bad to meh, the offense was meh to bad, and it was overall, a frustrating, miserable experience of a game. I kept looking for bright spots to pull out and talk about at length, because—much to the chagrin of some readers of this blog—I am an optimist by nature, and I like to find the good in things. Nelson Cruz hit a home run. The bullpen didn’t look hideous, but it’s hard to credit them too much when pitching in a six or seven run deficit. Guillermo Heredia did his one joyful thing of the day, throwing out Jose Abreu, who as Dave Sims said (a delightful Dave Sims thing!), apparently didn’t read past page three in the scouting report. But I want to return to this idea, of optimism and pessimism.
I’m not sure if being an optimist or a pessimist is a product of nature or nurture. My grandfather is one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever met, able to see the blue in any sky. My grandmother, on the other hand, his wife of 72 years, was quick to see the negative in a situation. She was hilarious, smart, and a little mean. 72 years together didn’t seem to shift either of them too far off their natural positions. Maybe a pessimistic or optimistic mindset truly is born, not made.
Optimists tend to view pessimists as crabby Eeyore types who are unable, or unwilling, to find joy in the everyday. Pessimists tend to view optimists as naive, overly romantic, or just plain stupid. There’s something about a pessimistic viewpoint that often is correlated to being critical or analytic or otherwise more intellectually rigorous than “looking on the bright side,” that phrase redolent of elementary school classrooms. But for most of the optimists I know--and I include myself in this—their optimism is hard-won. For my grandfather, it was walking through bomb-blistered villages in Japan in WWII, his body intact and whole. He had come to war with his guitar, and he left with the ability to still play it, and to this day he continues to play it, because he can, and he recognizes the gift inherent in that:
My grandpa shredding on his axe pic.twitter.com/anU09ltdOq— Kate Preusser (@1nceagain2zelda) May 21, 2017
(My grandmother did not care for this guitar-playing—as I’ve said, she was a little mean—especially when he was struggling with a new song. My father, who is more like his mother than his father, also can get frustrated with this when he brings the guitar out on visits, and will occasionally do an unkind imitation of the sound on the way home.)
Pessimists are more correct, optimists are happier, but whatever happens is going to happen. That’s a lesson anyone who has stood at the edge of destruction—whatever that’s looked like in your life—has learned. For me it’s boiled down to this: being correct feels good; being joyful feels better.
Optimism, even if it comes naturally, is the harder choice when things are tough. It is often the less intellectually defensible choice. It is very, very hard right now to be optimistic about the Mariners. It is much easier, and feels much more delicious, to begin crafting lists of what pieces can be sold off for parts, to dream on restocking the farm with some big-name prospects, to google “2018 MLB draft.” It feels more realistic. It probably is. Pessimists are right much more often, and the team, right now, feels hopeless.
Poised on the precipice of the Mariners heading out on a tough road trip, buried in the basement of the AL West, losers of multiple games against universally recognized Bad Teams like the White Sox and Blue Jays, there is a fast-approaching schism in how fans will want to talk about the team. Some will argue vehemently for selling off all available pieces; others will point to the spate of injuries and argue the team can’t possibly be this bad. Scientists suggest the natural disposition towards being optimistic or pessimistic is biologic in nature; optimists have brains that work towards possibility and growth, while pessimists have brains that seek security and safety. Both are ideas that have kept us alive and progressing forward over the long march of human history. Both are utterly incapable of affecting (or effecting) the future. Both, too, are utterly incapable of affecting the other side. My grandmother tried for 72 years, but she never could stop my grandfather from playing that guitar.