I am a pessimist. I might just be the most cheerful pessimist you ever meet, but I’m a pessimist nonetheless. I grew up thinking the world was a dangerous place, with bad things waiting for me around every corner. This was in part due to a reading level that exceeded my maturity level by quite a few years. Early life experiences also led me to believe that the world could not be trusted. Disaster could strike at any moment and, even in the best of times, I waited with bated breath for the other shoe to drop and crush my little self. To say I was a fearful child is putting it lightly. And I grew up into a fearful adult — always planning for the worst, always suspicious, always sort of expecting the good times to give way to death, destruction, and despair.
I fell in love with and married an optimist. Brian’s life philosophy seems to be ‘It’ll all work out in the end’ while my natural inclination is more along the lines of ‘Oh my god…we’re all going to die!’ I adore my husband, but sometimes his optimism and general positive outlook drives me up the wall and I know for a fact my pessimism irritates him at times, too. He freely uses up whatever we have because he is certain that we will always be able to get more of whatever it is we need while I have to fight the impulse to hoard everything out of the fear that the day will come when we will need something and not have it. The word potential excites him while for me it generally only brings dread. He is a dreamer. I am a realist. I make plans to make plans. He figures we’ll sort things out when we get to them. We are very different in our outlooks and impulses but we are each vital to the success of the relationship.
What does our relationship have to do with illusions? Well, it is a real-life example of how many people fall into one of two categories. There are those people like me who, left to their own devices, will believe that the world is a dark and dangerous place with monsters waiting around every corner to crush them. Then there are people like Brian who, left to their own devices, believe the world is a good, generally safe place where opportunities for a bigger and brighter future wait around every corner. I’ve found that most of the people I know generally fall into one of these two lines of thinking and each can find “proof” for their life philosophy. But that either/or mentality is a deception. The truth is that elements of safety and danger both exist in the world. Joy and despair can be found together in any single moment or event. Opportunities can be presented to us only to be taken away by something outside of our control. The world is neither a good place to be nor a bad place to be. It is simply a place to be. To try to divvy up everything into good or bad, black or white, safe or dangerous, happy or sad, takes away the richness and complexity that makes life worth living.
Living in close quarters with an eternal optimist has enabled me to overcome many of my fears or at least not act from them, while living with a pessimist has enabled Brian to grow in his own way as well. If we were both pessimists, we would probably be pretty miserable. If we were both optimists, we’d probably be broke. It is the combination of the two that makes our relationship textured, interesting, and worth having. I believe the same for the world. Both “good” and “bad” have their place and intertwine with each other in such a way that at times it is impossible to separate them. Just like yin and yang, each contains an element of the other.