Most of my family and many of my closest friends call me a pessimist. I disagree. I believe I am a pro-active optimist, someone whose default is that things will work out in the end - but not automatically. Only if we do our part to ensure success.

When I challenge their characterization of me as a pessimist, the response is generally along the lines of: “You always assume the worst possible thing will probably occur.”  But I am not assuming that at all.

Why is their view of me so different from my view of myself? Perhaps because they see only a small part of my response to the world, and the part they see is my verbalization about how to avoid harm.



Typical examples might be:

    •    If we are deciding when to leave for the airport, I suggest we leave early to allow for bad traffic or a detour.
    •    If we are traveling by plane, I prefer to leave what others consider an excess cushion between flights to avoid missing a connection.
    •    If we are scheduling a barbecue, I suggest we make plans for both good and bad weather.
    •    If we are scheduling a time for a service person to work on our furnace, I suggest that one of us should plan to stay home all day.

I’m not assuming the worst at all. I am thinking about a range of possible outcomes and suggesting or talking about steps to take to avoid the worst.  From my vantage point, their assumption that no adverse events are likely enough to warrant consideration of precautionary measures is naive. Some of this is undoubtedly due to (or, at least, reinforced by) my medical training. When I see a puncture wound, I don’t assume either that the patient will get tetanus (statistically very unlikely) or will not get tetanus. Instead, I think about the range of potential outcomes and make a plan taking both the best and worst outcomes into account. That’s why we treat contaminated wounds with antibiotics, why we routinely image the brain in an anti-coagulated patient with even a relatively minor closed head injury, and have pediatric resuscitation equipment in the delivery room. That’s not pessimism. That is preparedness.

To torture another metaphor, this is not about half-full or half-empty glasses. It is about having a plan to refill the glass if it spills.