Genuine Optimism Defined

While many see optimism as a mental attitude that takes the brighter side of everything (often blindly), there exists a meaning with greater significance, and it is derived from the original Latin, optimum, meaning “best.” The philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) later expanded this to mean “best of all possible worlds.” Leibniz felt that this is where God chose to exist. This means you can look on the brighter or positive side of everything, or you can define what really is the best of all possible choices according to laws embedded in the universe. In the case of the later, a degree of responsibility is required because the universe demands it. In the case of the former, there is no responsibility—you just think positively almost as if in denial of natural law. The key is in the term responsibility because looking at the brighter side of everything is subject to error and denial, meaning you can make a lot of mistakes in your thinking, and this is not being responsible. Choosing the more responsible action has a more genuine optimistic result. Responsibility and genuine are two words with close ties, meaning they qualify each other. As we will see, responsibility qualifies liberty vary nicely.

The most common mistake in taking the mental brighter side is that something else can be brighter and you may not know it. Even worse, you might find yourself fighting against better ideas. This is why taking the positive side can often showcase a closed approach, or an unwillingness to hear views that challenge established norms and tradition. You have to study many sources an not just one view such as religious, liberal or conservative. In other words, taking the agreeable side of everything assumes one always thinks positively while the rest of us are still looking for something in relation to many sources. A good example is Socrates, who spent his life looking for the best answers to his questions. His was not an open mind in the positive sense. He had a questioning mind. To be open and questioning are not the same. Socrates was seeking answers rather than trying to establish them. He required discussion with others and the normal process of questioning brought fourth better answers to all.

To have a questioning mind requires public access, something like a forum or discussion group that welcomes enquiry—the very thing Socrates thrived on. A mind cannot be questioning if it does not have public access to others willing to answer questions. If public questioning is deliberately withheld, the truth will not rise. This is essentially why Socrates was shut down from asking questions in public and eventually took his own life because of the judgment against him.

If there is no means to raise a question and seek wisdom openly, minds are left closed. The open mind simply holds a positive view to avoid intimidation. Socrates could not survive in such a world because he knew that a questioning mind does not act alone, despite what most tend to think. It needs public access and public expression.

Put a man on an island alone and there is no means to question or be questioned. An open mind would think positive that a solution will come without doing any questioning. Out of desperation a questioning mind will resort to asking God for help. The social model is rife with political intimidation and correctness. This is authoritative pressure, which more often than prevents questions but talks of an open mind as a denial of positive support, void of questions or doubt. The freedom to question cannot happen when an authoritative or dominant power center can shuts one down publicly. True freedom, for instance, would not have sentenced Socrates or Christ to death. It would have let them continue the questioning and speaking up for the least, for justice, and even to ask questions against the grain of established tradition. When there are questions there is true voice of personal thoughts, and when you have this in parallel with a vote or decision of agreement, this becomes a natural breeding ground for genuine optimism in reaching for the best possible ideas rather than the political optimism of positive thinking in order to control and seek favor.

America is a place where this has been idealized in the phrase “voice of the people.” Unfortunately we have not figured out how to organize the voice of the people very well—that of having a questioning spirit organized publicly. For too long we have slid into the assumption that an open vote is a voice. The job of a statesman or a leader is to figure out exactly how to get the true voice of the people without superficial, blind, and popular agreement by a majority. The usual pathway to getting any kind of consent from the people is to give everyone a vote. Sometimes the vote decides a new proposition or a new referendum, and sometimes the vote is made to choose a representative out of two picked by a few. However, if just fifty one percent confirms a decision, this leaves forty nine percent un-represented. This cannot effectively be called the voice of the people.

In order to reach a more accurate voice, and in order to create the optimum or best environment for a questioning and open mind to genuinely flourish, we need to go back to public assembly where all questions and all answers are free to roam without a dominant power center controlling who can speak and what can be spoken. Throughout history, controlling discussion and public discourse has been the first line of attack in protecting the established elite. This is why we need to take a step back into the arena of discussion before any voting. It is important to connect voice to a vote properly, and in that order. While the two are not the same, voting can only be derived from a questioning voice, and this happens to be the least recognized value in moving liberty. It also happens to be the mission behind Genuine Optimism, it is something that comes from the desert, the place where every soul can hear itself breath.