Is the glass half-empty or half-full? Most would assume that the glass is half empty. Crime rates are skyrocketing, literacy rates are plummeting, people are too busy Tweeting to notice the beautiful world around them, Democrats and Republicans are worried about defeating each other, rather than solving important, fundamental issues.
Conversely, a valid argument could be made that the glass is half full. Same-sex marriage is becoming widely accepted, women’s equality is gaining much-needed ground, information previously thought impossible to comprehend is readily available on our phones. Potential is unlimited.
Perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full is irrelevant. Instead we should recognize, and agree, the glass is not yet full, our potential has not yet been reached. Progress still needs to be made, will always need to be made.
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin were pessimistic optimists. Their pessimism was written into the Constitution, their optimism, the Bill of Rights. The former limits trust and power in the government (pessimism), while the latter recognizes the abilities and possibilities of a free people (optimism).
The Founders knew the tendencies of men in power, knew they would abuse it, use it to their advantage. Our current governmental system was designed with pessimism in mind, the worst in men (dishonesty, envy, greed, corruption) will ultimately triumph over their ideals. When writing the Constitution, they envisioned the worst case scenarios, the Executive with too much power, corruption in the Legislature, madness and illogic among the people (e.g. “mob mentality,” “one tyrant 3,000 miles away compared to 3,000 tyrants one mile away”). Pessimism.
The Bill of Rights recognized the immense potential of the people when they are allowed basic freedoms, the ability to grow, think, progress. When people are allowed to speak their minds, the press allowed to criticize the government, religions prevented from being discriminated against or infiltrating the government, opportunities and possibilities flourish. Citizens are allowed to think, dream. Optimism.
Pessimistic optimism comes down to balance. Imbalance of either pessimism or optimism leads to a distorted view of the world. Instead of asking whether the glass is half-empty or half-full, we should ask how we can fill the glass. Arguing over whether it’s full or empty is akin to arguing whether a tree makes a sound when it falls in the woods when nobody’s around.
We’re missing the point.
The tree fell.
The glass isn’t full.
Focus on the problem.