There appears, for some inexplicable reason, to be a universal need, to conveniently categorize other members of society, subjectively assigning to them, simplistic tags or adjectival descriptions, to accord with one’s own personal perception. This reductive mental shorthand, is, more often than not, erroneous, as being based on insufficient experience, hasty assumptions, or populist criteria.
By illustration, the perceived extent of an individual’s demonstrated stress, brought about by the advent of the contemporary pandemic, itself, may be considered by some, as an accurate revelation of his persona. Individuals, often, in like sophomoric manner, are evaluated, among other traits, as essentially optimistic or pessimistic. There are many who, possibly, may see utility in such differentiation, as between the two facile categories, as a predictable feature of character. We could not possibly, disagree more. People are not so simplistically understood,
In addition to the fundamental unreliability and limited value of individually nuanced perception, we maintain that, in this case, these two, amorphous and sophomoric categorical classifications, or tags, as such, are inadequately reductionist, if not deluded.
No less than Winston Churchill, himself, referenced the difference between optimism and pessimism with the following, pithy statement: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
There is the appearance of wisdom, plus an added dose of humor, in such inventive (and simplistic) declaration of Winston Churchill, but we are, empirically, obliged, to withhold our approval of this, seemingly, sage witticism. As we will propose later in this mini-essay, Sir, Winston was, here, in our respectful view, guilty of the grave, reductionist error, of implying that human personality is bifurcated into the two described categories, i.e., either positive or negative (or optimistic and pessimistic) This, (for Sir Winston, surprisingly) limited and narrow concept, is often illustrated by the commonly proposed and trite, exploratory inquiry, “is the glass of water, half full or half empty?” Life has empirically shown that the basic assumption, implicit in the question, is empirically, false, and unfairly misleading.
It may be temporarily satisfying, perhaps even somewhat, affirming, to experience a nodding approval, responsive to such populist evaluations; nevertheless, such declarative assumptions, in truth, have the equivalent low value of archaic, aphoristic chestnuts, or common, unsubstantiated gossip. Human beings should not be, seen as defined categories of automatons, programmed to respond, predictably and in robot-like fashion, to pre-programmed stimuli.
We, ourselves, were once asked, at an introductory meeting, “Is the glass half full, or half-empty?” We, unhesitatingly responded in a manner, refuting the basic assumptions underlying the intended, evaluatory question. Our brief answer, decades ago, was,” both.” [the basic theme of this note]. As it happens, at the time of the question, factually, one half of our life, as understood, had already been lived; but expectedly, there was a second half, which we energetically, indicated, was intended to be lived enthusiastically and in a self-fulfilling manner.
Our life experience and observed portrayal of diversity of personality in the literature and arts, has effectively, taught us that it would be foolish, if not quixotic, to blithely aspire to describe the variety of human personality, by traditionally simplistic categories. Human beings, universally vary, by diverse personal nuance, due to a myriad of factors. These factors include early upbringing, lifetime experiences, brain and bodily chemistry, ethnic affiliation, extent of education, state of health, economic condition, ethnic and cultural learning. One’s individual response to any stimulus would naturally be affected by such varied elements. An additional consideration, is that any such vain effort at analytical or comparative observation is subject to analogous influences on perception, as well as the evaluated response.
Individuals, often characterized by inadequate education, reductionist perspective, and little experience with people unlike themselves, bizarrely, seem to pretend to an ability, to predict the inclinations, or characteristics of “others;” such asserted talent exist in various degrees, ranging from simply errant, to blatant, bigotry. Racial prejudice, for example, is lazy, fertile ground, for simplistic analysis. Similar limitations of reason, seem to apply to the useless practice of categorization of people, in general.
We must consider as well, the effect of the virtually unlimited variety of stimuli, to which the observed individual, has been exposed in the past. Early personal fantasies, taught fears and past individual events, would logically and empirically, be contributory to any reaction. Lifetime elements such as wealth or poverty, divorce, state of health, serious illness or loss of a family member, accident and consequent injury, disability, failure or success in particular endeavors, divorce, unrequited love, wartime or disaster experiences, extreme sensitivities to stimuli, such as loud sounds, obnoxious smells, light or darkness, heat or cold, and the occurrence of past trauma, may affect a reaction to a presenting stimulus (such as the present epidemic). In order to properly venture a general assessment of any individual, by his observed response, one must be, intimately and fully familiar with the individual, his past life experiences, real or fantasized, and his reactions, as known, to past, analogous stimuli.
The proverbial water glass is eternally full, containing the totality of life’s varied experience, and characterized by innumerable, permutations, and combinations of nascent, unpredictable inclinations, singularly, and specifically, applicable as to each distinct individual.