Pessimists shy away from risk like the Devil from holy water.
After all, everything could go wrong – and indeed is more likely if you believe it strongly enough.
However, without daring there would be no progress, no change, no new horizons. It is therefore good and just that people who take risks in business are rewarded by better results. Who dares wins, as the phrase goes. Fortune favours the brave, another holds.
There is risk in every area of our lives. It is the confession of love, bravely standing up for what is right, the honest statement, the change of job. This is at the individual level. At a more general level, it was always the bold researchers and developers who gave us the innovations that made our lives more colourful, more pleasant, more varied, more secure.
Without such people, we would not have any of those things that would have seemed miraculous just 200 years ago. That two people 14,000 kilometres apart can talk to one another and now even see each other while doing so. That one of these two people can be on a ship and the other at the summit of a mountain. That a person’s entire collection of favourite music can be transported in a small, flat box. That mankind’s knowledge can be accessed with the press of a few buttons, no matter whether you’re in the jungle or at the North Pole.
That, as German comedian Loriot points out, “Man is the only creature that can consume a warm meal while flying.” That a patient whose gall bladder is removed using keyhole surgery can go out for a cup of coffee the very next day. That the human genome has been decrypted, thereby opening the door to the eradication of many genetic diseases. And that Craig Venter, the man behind the project, now thinks that the global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions could be avoided by using special bacteria to convert carbon dioxide into kerosene, thus simultaneously solving the world’s energy problems.
All these developments are in themselves risky. Had the developers only considered this aspect, we would never have achieved all that which gives us cause for cautious optimism. A fixation with risk alone paralyses and therefore gives cause for pessimism.
I would like to conclude with a particularly wonderful story. In the 19th century, Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel developed dynamite. What drove him was the goal of making the work on dangerous construction projects like tunnel-drilling or the erection of bridges much safer for the builders involved. As he grew older, Nobel was shocked to see that his invention was also being used for extremely negative ends. Dynamite became the basis of numerous weapons and thus an almost essential element of modern warfare.
It was this disillusioning realisation by an out-and-out optimist that led him to add something to his will that has since given mankind cause for hope time and time again, and honoured numerous optimists in the best way possible: the Nobel Prize; a generous gift bestowed, financed and sponsored every year by the foundation bequeathed by Alfred Nobel.
Optimism knows many ways.
We are delighted to feature daily excerpts from Florian Langenscheidt’s inspiring Dictionary of Optimism. He is a renowned author, journalist, publisher and television presenter and has been researching and writing about happiness for over 40 years.