Sometimes the Glass Can Be Half Empty

We must learn to temper optimism with a little pessimism to successfully tackle the daunting challenges that lay ahead.

By Nader Museitif

It’s easier to be an optimist; you worry less, maintain a normal blood pressure, and handle things as they come instead of worrying and constantly calculating risk. While risk is for the faint hearted, while optimism is a quality of the brave. Furthermore, and as research suggests, optimism is more likely to win you romance than pessimism is.

But rational behavior may suggest a balanced approach to how we view world events. Therefore it can’t hurt for an optimist to stop and ask: How does the world look from a pessimist’s point of view? What’s it like to see the glass half empty?

The region isn’t exactly passing through an era of enlightenment. Fanatics are everywhere, Arab uprisings crumbled amidst social frustration and stronger counter forces, all of which render “good always triumphs” an expression only valid in the fictitious pages of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Our rank as people became clear when 17 deaths in France prompted millions to adopt a new name, while not one name is remembered from thousands dying in Syria and Gaza.

On the economic front, we remain powerless and completely prone to global waves. Save for some GCC pockets of success, Arabs missed countless opportunities to become more competitive. The global picture is more mixed than ever; inflated in some places, stubbornly stagnant in others. Complexity in the connected global economy is really beyond anyone’s intellectual grasp. America is doing well, Europe is still debating what to do, and God (or perhaps the Communist Party) knows what’s happening in China. Is cheap oil good or bad? Oil prices dropped 50 percent in just six months. A wry pessimist might say this is because demand halved.

Taking it to the household doesn’t make it easier. Everything is more expensive; less people can afford getting married, let alone buying property. Then comes your children’s future, education (good luck with tuition fees), and getting them ready to face way more competition than you ever did. And if you think your job is safe, think again. If Google doesn’t replace you, then a flip flop wearing millennial who’s willing to work more for less probably will. Populations and demand are growing so fast that sheep and cattle farms won’t be able to keep up with our appetites. Cocoa will become a luxury item in a few years. On a state level, the load will be so severe on public services they might consider outlawing smoking altogether because its effect on societies is more expensive than big tobacco companies’ contributions.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea. With this glimpse into the future, the good news is that you know what may be taking place in short to medium-term. The bad news is, well, just that.

There are real challenges coming up that require more work and intelligence to navigate than many previous generations have ever faced. A rational pessimist doesn’t despair and asks the second question: What would a smart person do next?