Pessimistic or Realistic: Where’s the Line Drawn?

Now, isn’t this a better metaphor than the glass of water?
Source: Omnilexica

Once again, I find myself over burdened. This time, it’s the pressure of finding work that’s doing me in. On the plus side, I have a second interview with a local newspaper.

So, in order to take some stress off of me, I’m going to philosophize on a subject that I once discussed back when I was writing for my campus newspaper.

I have a long standing history among friends and family as being a pessimist. However, I often feel they are mistaking my view for Pessimism when I’m actually trying to be realistic. So let’s look at the two and see how a so-called pessimistic view can be a boon when tempered properly.

What is Pessimism?

Not quite my definition, but the closest that I could find on short notice.
Source: The Pessimist

I have found that many people transpose the words ‘pessimist’ and ‘cynic’.

I have found that when most people call someone cynical, they mean it to suggest that they refuse to believe that anything will ever be of any worth. However this is closer to the definition of pessimism; the, “tendency to stress the negative or unfavorable or to take the gloomiest possible view,” according to The Free Dictionary.

Cynical, on the other hand, describes a school of thought that states that all humans are inherently self-serving and untrustworthy. In the words of Merriam-Webster, it is defined as, “believing that people are generally selfish and dishonest.”

It’s important to note the difference between the two. A cynic has a pessimistic view of people (you can’t trust anyone), but a pessimist is not necessarily a cynic.

In fact, pessimism can be highly focused to a specific area of thought; e.g. art, humanity, etc. For example, a person can hold the pessimistic belief that any movie that a specific film director makes will be garbage, but will optimistically sing the praises of another.

So, this begs the question of why one would chose to be pessimistic. I can’t answer for them, but I can tell you where I started.

The Father of Pessimism

All hail our Grand Poobah!
Source: Wikipedia

One of the people that helped form the basis of my world view was one Theodore Sturgeon. Sturgeon was a celebrated sci-fi author and critic responsible for helping to form the world of modern science fiction. In addition to writing several episodes of Star Trek, Land of the Lost, and The New Twilight Zone, he also wrote “Killdozer!”, a cult classic novella turned made-for-TV movie.

According to legend, Sturgeon was answering the attacks of critics of science fiction that bashed it for its low quality by stating that most examples of life in general can be seen as just as poor. To put it in Sturgeon’s own words, “Sure, ninety percent of science fiction is crud. That’s because ninety percent of EVERYTHING is crud.”

The notion that most things are worthless is known as “Sturgeon’s Revelation” (though it is better known by the less accurate “Sturgeon’s Law” and is often misquoted as, “Ninety percent of everything is CRAP”). And while is seems hyper-critical, doesn’t it feel true? How often have you complained about never finding anything good on television? How many business can you think of that you can say nice things about without any qualifying statements about less desirable actions they’ve taken? How many people do you bump into, work with, or hear about that you could do without?

The fact is that we have a quality control problem in this world and recognizing it is perfectly normal. In fact, it’s actually helpful.

The Advantage of (Controlled) Pessimism

I’m going to start telling myself this from now on.
Source: Youth Voices

Recognizing the flaws in the world around us is what pushes us to want to improve things. Imagine how drab and miserable the world would be if we were all complaisant and willing to accept the world as is without questioning it or trying to improve it.

Also, pessimism can be a powerful protective tool when used properly. By expecting the worse from some future plan or event, you can prepare for the worse possible outcome – a key to good crisis management. In this case, pessimism is only a problem when it convinces you to not pursue your task in the first place.

In short, the boundaries between true pessimism, blind optimism, and realistic thinking – as defined by me – are how much you let negative thoughts dictate your thinking. A realist will let those thoughts serve as a warning rather then let them defeat themselves before they start or blatantly ignore them.

Last Thoughts and Advise

In closing, yes, I’ve been known to take a negative view on most things initially. However, that just means that I’ll either know what’s wrong before hand that needs fixing or I’ll be pleasantly surprised when all goes better than expected.


So remember, don’t fear the doubts and negativity in the back of your mind. Don’t ignore them or let them crush your spirit. Instead, let them guide you towards the right path. And should you notice that less than ninety percent of something is crud, raise your standards and demand better from the world.

One thought on “Pessimistic or Realistic: Where’s the Line Drawn?

  1. For the most part I agree with your final conclusions. They are a viable tool for dealing with the world as we perceive it. However, I would like to say that we have no more reason to expect unpleasant outcomes in a situation than we do pleasant ones. Each situation is to some degree a clean slate. I like Sturgeon’s comment, but I really think one reason why things look this way is that the observer is to close to the event. Some things that appear to be 90% crud turn out to be 90% gold after the passage of time.

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