So a few things I have heard recently (although this blog post has been in the offing for a while so perhaps not that recently) set me to reflecting further on what it means to be an optimist, and whether this is really what I aspire to.
"The church needs more pessimists, because they are the people who will see how things really are and what isn't possible so make things actually happen"
I paraphrase from a sermon, primarily because I can't remember the exact words, but that was the gist. A challenge to me as an eternal optimist which I could have dismissed out of hand, but decided to tuck away for further thought.
A few days later, in a different context, a different person said something along these lines:
"One of the first things we are called to do is to use our imagination, to imagine other possibilities, and to hold up before the world a vision of other possibilities"
The latter sat much more comfortably with the optimist in me; it fitted much more closely with how I see the world. Surely this was calling us to optimism and away from cynicism and pessimism.
But then it was a third person who set me thinking again and helped me bring some of these nebulous thoughts together into what I now realise as I write is still a fairly incoherent whole.
"There is a major difference between optimism and hope"
It occurs to me that perhaps pessimism and optimism are just two different sides of the same coin. They are two different ways of looking at the world and struggling with its realities and problems, always seeing the best or the worst in what is already there.
So what of hope?
Hope is something altogether different. It is the tenacious clinging to another vision, to a different possibility. Hope inspires us towards active imagination; towards believing in other, unseen possibilities.
Perhaps that second quote has very little to do with optimism and pessimism and is about more than just how we see the world around us. Perhaps it is just as ok to be cynical about the world around us as it is to be naively idealistic. Both optimists and pessimists with their different views of the world can still be people of hope; people who imagine other possibilities and hold them up for the world to see.
Perhaps it is hope that all prophets, be they the old testament kind or the modern day ones, be they pessimists or optimists in the eyes of the world, have in common. Hope, and the desire to share that hope with others.
Perhaps my optimism, and another's pessimism, are both aspirations towards being people of hope.