2008-08-24 02:33:13

"You have 0 optimism points"

Just for fun, I recently participated in some personality evaluation test. And as expected, the most remarkable thing the tool constanted was pessimism. Since Thomas ”maximus“ Deutsch recently wrote about his opinion on his attitude, which also included pessimism, I got the idea that there is actually a difference between pessimism and pessimism.

Destructive Pessimism

Most people know the destructive pessimism very well. Even the most cheerful people usually had a phase of depression at least during their puberty. In destructive pessimism, people stop believing in the sense of their life, their actions and everything surrounding them. As a consequence, these people find it useless to act at all.

The cognitive aspect is also very discouraging. Destructive pessimists don't perceive positive developments and events at all. Maybe they became too ordinary to be perceived, but in any case these people act like they never happened. Bad events however are perceived as an affirmation and frustration.

Constructive Pessimism

Constructive pessimism however, the type of pessimism I tend to adhere to, does not have the expectation of everything to fail. The pessimistic assumptions in constructive pessimism are way more moderate:

  • You cannot expect other people to do work. They most likely won't. They will overestimate their capacity and capability or never get to the job in the first place.
  • If something can fail, it will. This is basically a moderate version of murphyism. However, this principle leads to concepts like redundancy, thus it is an important part of the philosophy of engineers.
  • Too few people make bad decisions. Individuals tend to oversee aspects, so consulting an adequate number of people is always a nice idea. Too many people however tend to have problems comunicating.

… and many more, but you get the idea. So the general rule is to have low expectations, as opposed to expecting failure.

Other than the destructive pessimist who drowns in lethargy, constructive pessimsts draw their energy from their pessimism. The conclusion from the above assumptions is that it is best to do the job on one's own, and that one should verify every single component for proper operation. This principle is reflected for example in the rules of Extreme Programming.

The differences are also very serious in the cognitive dimension. If a constructive pessimist perceives failure, it was what he expected, so it does not come as a deception. He prepared for the failure, in fact. If, however, he succeeds, then he is very positively surprised and perceives the success as such. Thus, disappointing a constructive pessimist is close to impossible, while the world is indeed full of positive surprises for them.

As a conclusion it may be repeated that there are indeed different types of pessimism, and that not all of them necessarily lead to apathy. Indeed, pessimism can be quite inspiring.


Posted by Tonnerre Lombard | Permanent link | File under: general, chaos