The Story of the Pessimist, the Optimist and the Realist


Did you hear the one about the optimist who accidentally fell from the roof of the 100 storey building? Someone down on the 50th floor heard them falling past an open window saying: “So Far So Good!”

On Saturday I witnessed an historic event – two South African Rugby teams playing in a Super 14 final at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto. It was amazing to see the stadium full of cheering Rugby Fans, the cacophony of droning Vuvuzelas, the colourful Makarapas and president Zuma pitching up on the pitch to greet the players before kick-off. For an optimist like me, this was a significant event, one which brought back powerful emotional memories of Rugby World Cup 1995. (Although back then my team won the game…)

Of course the pessimists will say it was a non event, a sham, nothing more than a short lived publicity stunt for political gain. The realists will say it was only a rugby game; South Africa has much more pressing (and depressing) issues to overcome.

Henry Ford once said: If you think you can or you think you can’t – you are right. I think the same applies to belief in the future success of our country – if you think we can or you think we can’t – you are right! It depends upon whether you are a pessimist, optimist or realist.

Right now, the pessimists are having a field day regarding South Africa. Like Karoo sheep they will bleat about Crime, Corruption, Malema, Zuma, The Erosion of Land Rights, Senseless Farm Murders, the Crumbling Justice System, Poor Service Delivery, Nationalisation of Mines, Unemployment and Cadre Deployment et al.

And they are absolutely RIGHT! Every one of these issues is evidence of their being right. We face massive challenges, challenges which the pessimists believe we as a nation will not be able to overcome. They insist that our country, like the optimist who fell off the building, is falling rapidly towards a major disaster. In their opinion it’s only a matter of time before the mango really hits the fan. They repeatedly tell the optimists to get out of denial and start facing the grim reality of what in their opinion is the inevitable decline of another African economy. Just look at the evidence from up north they say, from Mad Bob to Gaddafi and in between, to see where we are going to end up.

The optimists, on the other hand, have to range far and wide (just like Karoo sheep) to find meagre pickings of hope. After some reflection they might mention our Rapidly Improving Infrastructure, Major Intersections Being Rebuilt, Awesome New Airports, The Gautrain, Bus Rapid Transit System, Tax Collection Efficiency, Our Stable Currency, Declining Inflation, Solid Banking System and Our Free Press. Not to mention that we are about to host the biggest sporting event in the world right now. They will ask if you have noticed the side mirror socks and SA flags on so many cars, showing a growing groundswell of support for Bafana Bafana to play their hearts out and make ALL OF US proud.

The optimists may also remind you to take a good look at the overall state of our economy today, compared to 1994, as evidence of how far we have come as a nation.
And THEY too, are absolutely RIGHT. Every one of these points is a real reason to believe, a reason to feel positive that we as a nation can survive, thrive and succeed. Each one of these are real achievements, concrete evidence that we can get things done and make significant progress, despite our many challenges.

And what of the realists? They will most likely take another perspective, a look at the bigger picture and ask 3 vital questions:

  1. How is S.A. REALLY doing?
  2. How is the REST OF THE WORLD doing in comparison?
  3. What sort of shape is our whole PLANET in right now?

Some answers they may give us would be:

  1. How are we really doing? Realistically, we are doing OK, with lots to be proud of and lots to be concerned about, in equal measure. It really comes down to a question of what you choose to focus on. More importantly, it comes down to what each of us is actually doing to make things better. Worrying achieves nothing; it simply creates stress, fear and negativity. Waiting for a political solution is a waste of valuable time. Taking action to make a difference breeds real change, positivity and optimism.
  2. How is the rest of the world doing? Thailand just had 88 deaths due to Political infighting in Bangkok. Europe is facing a major Euro currency crisis. Greece and Spain (and probably more to come) are in deep financial trouble. So deep that France is threatening to pull out of the Eurozone. Britain has lost faith in their politicians. Every sixth child in Germany is on welfare. Volcanic ash is causing regular mayhem over parts of Europe. A friend recently returned from a 2 week driving holiday in Italy. He tells me that they have numerous, massive potholes which make ours seem tiny by comparison. The USA is facing its biggest oil spill disaster ever. They also found a large, (malfunctioning) car bomb in Times Square on 1st May. And they still owe around US $ 400 trillion to somebody – the world’s largest budget deficit? Australia faces issues like refugee boats, teen pregnancy and major drug abuse among their youth. A recent survey found that the Aussie population feels that their government is interfering way too much in all aspects of their lives. Sound familiar?
  3. What about our planet? Right now, she is struggling with a nett population growth of some 200 000 new humans per day – that’s an extra 1 million every five days. We are literally swarming like ants and the impact is showing. So we are seeing global warming, earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes and other planetary disruptions. Some even say that the melting ice caps could affect the delicate weight balance and cause earth to shift on her axis – then we will see some major SHI(F)T happen – in our lifetime!

And as I write all of this, I can hear the pessimists bleating again: SO WHAT Mark, two wrongs don’t make a right, get with the program, who cares about the rest of the world when our country is going to the dogs?

Listen ouens, I am only going to say this once: The world is your oyster and you can choose to go and live anywhere you like. The choices are vast. The truth is that WHEREVER YOU GO, YOU TAKE YOURSELF WITH YOU! You will still wake up every day and have to look in the mirror at your optimistic, pessimistic or realistic face. And if you have reason to complain about SA, you will most likely find as many reasons to complain about your new country, your neighbours, politicians, the weather, rising prices, bureaucracy, traffic, systems, language and food et al. Granted you will probably feel safer and more secure regarding violent crime, but will you feel HAPPY? Happiness comes from within and everywhere you go you will still face challenges. Different challenges maybe, but no less difficult to overcome.

And what of feeling secure? Helen Keller said: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

I am somewhat concerned about the future of our planet. I do not always feel 100% safe in my country right now. But I am 100% happy and confident it will improve. My life has always been a daring adventure. And, most importantly, I am doing something positive to make a difference instead of sitting around waiting for the world to change. Every month, I work with hundreds of my countrymen to improve their attitudes, productivity, optimism, efficiency, profitability, motivation and team work. At the workplace, I see people of all colours, religions and creeds, male and female, old and young, integrating and working together to make things better. I see the shift happening amongst leaders, staff and their customers. On Saturday, in Soweto, I saw that shift begin to happen socially, outside the workplace, in the townships, which is where the real work still needs to be done. I saw the birth of hope.

On selected weekends, I assist groups of brave individuals to take a profound journey deep inside and discover what distorted beliefs are running their lives. I witness “strangers” sharing their true feelings with other “strangers” and thereby becoming friends. I see people dropping their masks and prejudices, being completely authentic with others and thereby undergoing profound transformation, like caterpillars becoming butterflies. I see hope being restored and deep human bonds being formed, regardless of race or age or religious belief. I see the light begin to shine from within, as we strip away the darkness of depression, fear, self loathing and negative conditioning. I see extreme pessimists make a complete pendulum swing through realism to optimism. It is the most rewarding work I have ever done in my life.

All of the above gives me joy and makes my life meaningful. It gives me reason to believe, because I SEE IT HAPPEN. I do not read the newspapers, because they mostly tell me what is going wrong. I remain focused on what is REALLY GOING ON, and find that there is much to be optimistic about. I realise that it is up to each individual to first change themselves and then help others do the same, if we are to have a safer, kinder, more conscious and compassionate world.

Woodrow Wilson said: “You are not here merely to make a living. You are here in order to enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

Our own Johnny Clegg sang: It’s a CRUEL, CRAZY, BEAUTIFUL world. I believe the world appears to be Cruel to the Pessimists, Crazy to the Realists and Beautiful to the Optimists.

Which one are you?