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Optimism and pessimism living in harmony on campus

By Tina Nazerian     10/18/12 7:00pm

Author Gil Stern once said, "Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society. The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute." With that one quote, he perfectly exemplified the contrast between pessimism and optimism. However, this contrast can sometimes be so great that the pessimist is pitted against the optimist. 

Do they need to be at odds, though? Can they not coexist, together causing humanity to shake, to progress, to ponder, like in Stern's example? As a more-or-less pessimist (or, as I typically like to say, realist), I was formerly convinced that optimism was inferior to pessimism. I clung to the notion that optimism can be dangerous because it can focus on what is good, potentially causing neglect of the things that need to be improved. In retrospect, I believe that what I really meant was that optimism alone is dangerous, in the same way that pessimism alone is dangerous. The two must be in harmony for a functioning society, and on a smaller scale, a functioning university. 

Optimism is hope. It is the sparkle that lit up our eyes when we, as anxious high school students, gazed upon Lovett Hall, daring to think that maybe, just maybe, we would one day walk through the Sallyport. It is the chanting of millions of protesters throughout history who gambled with their lives to save their nations. It is the rapt attention of hundreds of audience members as a distinguished scientist presents new research on cancer treatments. Without optimism, there would be no sparkle, no chanting, no attention. Optimism - hope - is one of the bases of change. No revolution can take place without optimism. Rice, which is at the forefront of educational, technological, scientific and humanistic progress, needs to utilize optimism. 

If optimism is hope, then what is pessimism? It is the belief that nothing can help the victims of a natural disaster. It is the smug reaction to an invitation to another Sammy's Picnic. It is the anticipation of a failed public party on the night of a rainy day. At first glance, a world without an emphasis on the negative is a good thing. But, without the acknowledgement of possible undesirable outcomes, how would we see the faults in our world? We first have to see the faults, after all, if we are to have a chance at hoping to improve them. Rice cannot do its part in advancing society if it cannot recognize the tragic aspects of the world. 

Pessimism and optimism are and should be interconnected. Having only pessimism would create a tiring, gloomy atmosphere, and having only optimism would create a falsely cheerful atmosphere. Too much of either is detrimental. Alone, both of these vantage points are unproductive and self-defeating, but arm-in-arm, they are golden. A progressive university like Rice needs its share of pessimism as much as it needs optimism when it comes to increasing its influence in the world. Rice researchers, professors, staff members and students need to be able to see the worst of the campus issues before they can create the best solutions for these issues. 

In short, we need three types of people at Rice: those who invent airplanes, those who invent parachutes and those who do both. 

Tina Nazerian is a McMurtry College freshman. 

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