Negativity appears to be a default human trait. I don’t say this with any glee, but rather as a depressing observation. The negative perspective is an easier one of which to grab hold. In the same way it is easier to destroy than it is to create, it’s easier to complain than it is to encourage. Pessimism offers an easy set of expectations, and since it seems like so much goes wrong so often, at times it seems like a smart way to live.
Pessimism appears to be winning lately. Or at least that’s how it seems when you watch the news or read through your Facebook feed. Many people will even complain before they’ve heard the whole story, and nine out of 10 comments on a news post are probably negative. We are steeped in a kind of knee-jerk pessimism that pervades contemporary life.
Optimism, on the other hand, is a tough sell. We love optimism when it suits us — in greeting cards or at the start of the baseball season — but as a way of life it seems foolish. And optimists can be annoying. Think of that perpetually positive person at work who can’t help encouraging his peers. Or your aunt who’s always looking on the bright side, even when there doesn’t appear to be one. There is a part of us, the part of us that readily springs to the worst-case scenario, that can’t stand optimists.
Yet optimism has always shaped our world for the better. And while it may seem like the pessimists are winning, the truth is they never win. Optimists always win because they always have a prize in sight.
America itself is a crowning achievement of optimists. As the first truly democratic republic, our national experiment in optimism has accomplished a lot in 239 years. Never mind the bleak landscape of destruction described by our president at his inauguration, or the American wasteland that talk radio reports. While our country has its faults and problems, they shouldn’t define the whole of our perspective. America has always been a land of optimists and always will be.
But let’s not discount the strength the pessimists possess. In our own humble city, they nearly tore down several years of planning and patient development. The pessimists elected in 2015 brought an optimistic vision of our city center to the brink of failure. Their penchant for destruction almost smothered the optimistic spirit at work in City Hall.
And then just last month at a news conference downtown, we heard the announcement that the optimists had won.
Still, the pessimists won’t go quietly, and in fact they’re staging a coup. Forget what you’ve heard from them about Amarillo, though. Our city may seem like it’s been defeated at times, like in 1968 when the Amarillo Air Base was closed and nearly 20,000 military staff left town. Yet it was within that same decade that the optimists went to work to win the day; construction began on the American National Bank building (now Chase Tower) and Amarillo Civic Center was completed. Imagine the field day the pessimists must have had with those projects.
That then is the key difference between pessimism and optimism — one is always tearing down, the other is always building. Pessimism never built anything. And the enduring negativity of people who think our downtown renaissance will fail is simply a symptom of the day. Let them complain while the lots sit empty and the quiet work of planning continues. Let them gripe while new events gain traction and people’s expectations shift. Let them embrace their pessimism fully now while the optimists work to bring everyone a better city.
I’ll admit to my own pessimism; I too am a victim of negativity. I was skeptical that we would land a Major League affiliated baseball team, but the optimists did it. I’m not certain how all of the funding will work with the city’s downtown projects, but I know that the optimists have a plan. I can’t guarantee that the new restaurants on Polk Street will succeed, but I can guarantee you that their owners are optimistic. Entrepreneurs are the biggest optimists in the world.
We should all be optimistic right now, and turn the discourse of our city in the same direction it is actually headed. I would personally rather be on the winning side of anything. And the optimists are winning.
Colin Cummings is a resident of Amarillo and a monthly guest columnist for Amarillo Globe-News.