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
After she'd caught her breath and finished
laughing, 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
"Outrage," I told her. "Controlled and properly
applied outrage." 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?" Now she was really worried. "How long is this going to
"Not long. You'll be out of here by noon."
"But it's only nine-thirty!"
"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 consequences.
"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."
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 Club.
"But second, and much more
importantly, do you want me to tell you what a real pessimist
sounds like?" I challenged.
"Uh...not really," she
"Okay, I'll tell you anyway. My idea of a
pessimist is somebody who hears about a new 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 glared.
"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."
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."
will ever believe it."