Let’s start with an awesome dog taking himself sledding.
Now, let’s move on to Bill Gates opening essay in this week’s Time Magazine (he’s their first ever guest editor) titled Some good news, for once. It’s short and powerful.
He starts out with context.
“Reading the news today does not exactly leave you feeling optimistic. Hurricanes in the Americas. Horrific mass shootings. Global tensions over nuclear arms, crisis in Myanmar, bloody civil wars in Syria and Yemen. Your heart breaks for every person who is touched by these tragedies. Even for those of us lucky enough not to be directly affected, it may feel like the world is falling apart.”
And then perspective.
“But these events—as awful as they are—have happened in the context of a bigger, positive trend. On the whole, the world is getting better. This is not some naively optimistic view; it’s backed by data. Look at the number of children who die before their fifth birthday. Since 1990, that figure has been cut in half. That means 122 million children have been saved in a quarter-century, and countless families have been spared the heartbreak of losing a child.”
He creates more perspective but quickly gets to the punchline.
“So why does it feel like the world is in decline? I think it is partly the nature of news coverage. Bad news arrives as drama, while good news is incremental—and not usually deemed newsworthy. A video of a building on fire generates lots of views, but not many people would click on the headline “Fewer buildings burned down this year.” It’s human nature to zero in on threats: evolution wired us to worry about the animals that want to eat us.”
But this line nailed it for me.
“There’s also a growing gap between the bad things that still happen and our tolerance of those things. Over the centuries, violence has declined dramatically, as has our willingness to accept it. But because the improvements don’t keep pace with our expectations, it can seem like things are getting worse.”
For the past week, Amy and I have been watching the Ken Burns documentary The Vietnam War. We finished Episode 8: The History of the World last night, and as the credits rolled and CSNY’s song Ohio played, I said to Amy, “The US and the world was unbelievably fucked up in 1970. I was five and I don’t remember anything. It’s helpful perspective on today.”
I was born optimistic and always have been. I’m going to stay optimistic about our country, our society, and our world. And I’m going to keep working hard on the things I think matter.
And yes, I’m going to read Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House tomorrow.
My wife Amy sent this HBR article – How to Handle the Pessimist on Your Team – to me. It’s almost a decade old but seems timeless.
I’m an optimist. With rare exceptions (usually when I’m depressed), I can carry an optimistic view point about things (business, projects, humans, life, existence on this planet, my ability to some day go to a parallel universe) around in most of my interactions.
I very much respect and value different opinions as I learn from them and from being challenged. I’m not “right” and don’t view my approach to discussions as “telling the truth”, but rather “providing data”, “telling stories”, and “helping a person / team get to a decision.”
Pessimists are useful to counter balance my optimistic view point. But endless pessimism does tire me, especially when it is only used to put up objections. When the objections are part of a discussion that leads to a more thoughtful outcome, it’s great. When it’s just negative, reactive, tone deaf to context, or relentless, I often feel like I just want to crawl under my desk and take a nap.
This article is prescriptive for the non-pessimist. But, if you have a pessimistic orientation, it’s also useful. I’d be surprised if you don’t have at least one pessimist on your team, and numerous teammates who have pessimistic tendencies. Turn them into a positive, not a negative.