A couple of weeks ago, I was chatting with a cheery woman I love to be around. She’s an artist, still a diehard Ralph Naderite, and a dedicated organic gardener. But one day, when I was ranting about some ongoing environmental disaster or another, she stood up in her broccoli patch, gave me a withering look and stuck her fingers in her ears.
“Please stop,” she said earnestly. “I can’t
listen to this anymore. You environmentalists are just too negative
for me to bear!”
Negative? Me? “You’ll
never believe this,” I told her, “But I am an
optimist.” After she’d finished laughing and caught her
breath, I attempted to explain myself.
“Look,” I said. “Do you know what I think is one
of the most significant characteristics of an optimistic
person?” She shook her head.
I told her. “Controlled and properly applied
My friend uncomfortably shifted from foot
to foot. “What in the world are you talking about?” she
“Okay ... stay with me a minute. Do you mind
if I sit down?”
“Not long. You’ll be out
of here by noon.”
“But it’s only
“Okay ... eleven.
Please listen to me. In this crazed world of ours, when we see
something happening around us that we think is wrong —
whether it’s trying to govern foreign countries that
don’t want us or killing endangered species to save them
— we have two choices: We can either act to change events, or
we can simply accept what’s happening and prepare for the
“Only by being outraged will any of
us make the effort or take the time to do the right thing. Outrage
led to the Declaration of Independence and the Emancipation
Proclamation and Women’s Suffrage and the Civil Rights Act.
Outrage created the Wilderness Act and the Clean Air Act. It was
when people got mad enough that change occurred.”
My friend sighed and sat down next to me. “I see your point,
but I just can’t stand all the pessimism that comes from
environmentalists like you. It never stops.”
“That’s not true and you know it,” I said
defensively. “First of all, you know that environmentalists
can be some of the silliest and dopiest people that ever had the
nerve to reproduce. We provide all kinds of comic relief to break
the grimness. I mean ... good grief ... look at the Sierra
“But second, and much more importantly, do you
want me to tell you what a real pessimist sounds like?” I
“Uh ... not really,” she replied.
“OK, I’ll tell you anyway. My idea of a
pessimist is somebody who hears about a new sight-seeing tram in
Moab, Utah, or another gated community in Montana or Oregon, or
another bonehead move by a Wyoming congressman and hears the
outrage from others and puts his hands over his ears and says,
‘This is all so NEGATIVE. I think this kind of negative
energy is really sad. I can find such happiness in my organic
garden and taking hikes with my friends and just living. I mean, I
recycle! Why can’t you people just be happy? You can’t
stop any of this anyway, so, like, why make yourself
“Now that is a pessimistic person
... someone in such denial that they refuse to acknowledge the
reality around them, and the responsibility to defend the very
things that they allegedly find most precious in their lives.
It’s stumbling through life with blinders on. It’s
ignoring the obvious. It’s outrageous and hypocritical to
boot!” I was on a roll.
“On the other hand,
someone who is outraged enough to act believes that things can get
better. That positive change is possible. That it’s worth the
screaming and elevated blood pressure to see something through to
its conclusion, win or lose.”
“I never say
‘like’ in a sentence,” she said, glaring.
“My friend, I’m not even talking about you.
Your grasp of the English language is to be commended and I know
you have a great passion for right and wrong. I was creating a
hyperbolic and stereotypical generalization to make a point. Just
don’t assume that outrage is a bad thing.”
“So the bottom line,” she said, “is that
you’re a positive, upbeat optimist because you’re
constantly outraged and frustrated, and if the world were similarly
infuriated, the world would be a better place to live?”
“Something like that.”
“Nobody will ever believe it.”