On Being a Modern Gentleman:
Guideline 16: Be Pragmatic
Recently, “The New Yorker” highlighted studies which posited that positive thinking and optimism may actually lead to failure and distress. It wasn’t news to me. I can hear the villagers gathering with torch and pitchfork, so before you storm my house, let me add this: I’m not in favor of pessimism either, though I do tend to lean in its direction. While I was unable to find a study detracting from pessimism (or supporting it), most of us would agree that pessimism seems to be a harmful attitude, both to the individual and those around him or her.
The modern gentleman doesn’t fall sway to idealism or fatalism–I’ll use these terms interchangeably with optimism and pessimism. The modern gentleman is pragmatic.
Most of us know someone with their head in the clouds. They go about their days, smiling, fantasizing. The world is their apple, and they’re about to take a big bite out of it. But when they find a worm in their apple, it all falls apart. Suddenly, those fantasies don’t ring true, and they find that their upbeat attitude and ceaseless optimism didn’t prepare them for, well, anything.
True pessimists aren’t much better. I knew a guy once, a very morose chap, who believed that all the good things in his life would fall apart just as he accepted them. He had a lovely girlfriend but would say, “Yeah, she’s great, but she’s going to cheat on me. It happened before, you know. I’m just preparing myself.” And after being given a raise, he proclaimed, “The company won’t be able to maintain these expenditures. They’ll lay us all off when they realize they can’t afford to keep us at this pay grade.” Pessimism had its dark tendrils so tightly wrapped about his brain that he didn’t enjoy anything.
Don’t be either of those people. Be realistic, pragmatic. Good and bad things happen to people for no apparent reason, and there is absolutely no predictor or predetermined cant to your life. Not every apple with have a worm, but rest assured that some of them will. It’s just a dose of protein, right?
I’ll close with this quote from actress Gilda:
I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious ambiguity.