Many people are convinced they are someone else. In fact all of us at some point or another have told ourselves that we’re not really the miserable, grumpy, cynical, obstructive or unreasonable person we appear to be it’s just that, right now, there are some extenuating circumstances. Your boss is a Nazi. You had a difficult childhood. There isn’t the budget. You don’t have the time. It’s not your problem. We like to imagine we could change the world (or our corner of it at least) if circumstances were different. Inside our heads we are convinced that we are kind, forward-thinking, engaged members of society who, given half the chance, would be working to make the world a better place.
Pragmatic optimists take a different view, which is quite simply this: you are what you do. That miserable, grumpy, cynical, obstructive or unreasonable person you appear to be is who you actually are as far as the rest of world is concerned. Pragmatic optimists are not interested in what you might do if your circumstances or internal dialogue were different. They hold the opinion that you do what you can in the moment you’re in. It’s a view shared by pragmatic optimists across history from Ghandi (“You must be the change you want to see in the world”) to Richard Branson (“Screw it, let’s do it”).
For this reason you will notice that pragmatic optimists, the people who get good stuff done are busy. Very busy. In fact you’ll hear others often remark, “I don’t know how they do so much”. The reason is they fill the time most of us use to procrastinate with hours spent getting on with stuff. And the results can be extraordinary. As one of their number, Benjamin Franklin, founding father of a nation said, “If you want something done, ask a busy person.” The principle applies equally, of course, to fixing that tap, or being kinder to your partner. A pragmatic optimist might therefore ask, “what are you waiting for?”
Mark Stevenson is an expert in future narratives, institutional innovation, engineered serendipity and learning and the author of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future (Profile Books, 2012). He will be leading the event The Future is Up For Grabs on 20 March 2013, for more information and to book, click here. Follow him on twitter @optimistontour
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