A Born Skeptic

A born skeptic, I find myself fascinated with optimists. I assume there’s a genetic component, and a reasonably secure childhood probably helps. But how do they persist? That’s what baffles me. Given the headaches, heartbreaks and horrors that attend human existence, how do these people sustain their cheerful dispositions?

Insuperable strength, maybe. A faculty for pulling themselves from the pit as many times as required. Or a stubbornness, a flat-out refusal to confront the unpleasant. Perhaps they don’t quite feel the unpleasant. It could be that pessimists are born with thinner skins; they bruise more easily and they likely don’t last as long. Like blue-eyed blondes, those of us who see the glass half-empty might one day be bred out of the population, replaced with tougher versions of humanity.

Optimism is defined as the tendency to expect the best and see the best in all things. Wow. Imagine that.

“I think I was born that way,” says an optimistic friend of mine, “but I work on it, too. I don’t allow myself to mull over the bad stuff. I do something else. Anything.” Ah, I thought. Distraction. You throw yourself a ball to run after.

I know I don’t throw myself enough balls. I am seduced by the pit, can feel it pulling me in. If pessimists anticipate the worst, by accommodating agony, sitting with the intolerable, perhaps I am preparing myself for annihilation. The worst is death, right? By the time I arrive there, I might be less afraid than those who are chasing balls. But maybe not. You see how easily I fall back.

My partner is used to my gloomy views and likes to poke fun at them. Often we laugh over one of my bleak remarks. Occasionally, though, her patience will wear thin and she will say, “Stop it. Stop going there.” And I will; I’ll acknowledge the sense this makes and I will attempt to correct my wrong think. It feels like stepping into another world. I can’t stay, but I enjoy the brief visits.

I don’t believe that optimism can be acquired along the way. I think it’s like religious faith. There are those who readily believe in God and those who might want to but can’t. I do my best. And it’s not like I don’t love life. I love it beyond expression. I can’t wait for the sun to come up and I never do. I spring out of bed. Dawn, bird song, a fresh chance. Every day a new chance to get it right.

I envy those who live on the bright side, I admit it. If I were choosing a business partner, I’d certainly select from the positive team. She’d keep the vision; I’d keep the books.

But for a dinner partner? Give me one of my own.


Published by

Jean Ryan

Jean Ryan, a native Vermonter, lives in Lillian, Alabama. Her stories and essays have appeared in a variety of journals and anthologies. She has also published a novel, LOST SISTER. Her short story collections, SURVIVAL SKILLS and LOVERS AND LONERS, are available online. STRANGE COMPANY, a collection of short nature essays, is available in paperback as well as digital and audio editions.

2 thoughts on “A Born Skeptic

  1. Jean, as someone who suffered for most of my life from depression, I was always the pessimist, the glass half empty, the prepare for the worst kind of person. Now that I am on a treatment for my depression that actually works, I have become an optimist, transformed into someone who can handle challenges without falling apart and who faces life face front instead of from the bottom of the slippery garbage can. Was I actually born an optimist but my depression camouflaged it? I don’t know. I do know I am now content and it feels wonderful!/Love, Joan

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