Emptying The Glass

Everyone always considers there to be two types of people: optimists and pessimists.

I hear it all the time. When someone points out the bad or doubts the truth, they’re a pessimist. And maybe they are. But the real question is what kind of pessimist are they: a cynic or a skeptic?

Optimists are optimists, period. They always see the glass at least half full and life is joyful and great and all is well and dandy, blah, blah, blah. But pessimists are a whole different breed.

According to dictionary.com, a skeptic is worth 15 Scrabble points and is defined as “a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual.” A cynic, worth only 12, is “a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.”

So in reality, both are pessimists, but more importantly, both are realists. They understand that in the end everything that we human beings hold true in this world is only true because we as human beings say it is. Now although we do back up our “truths” with logic, sometimes, that logic only makes sense and only applies if one can understand it and accept it.

A skeptic is the simple pessimist. Much like the simple son in Jewish tradition, he asks, “What is this?” Most often the answer is not an explanation, but just a restating that what he is asking about exists. Therefore, he is led to believe that there is no logic or reason and will come to a conclusion of doubt. In other words, skeptics don’t take anything on faith.

A cynic however, understands the deeper logic – or at least they think they do. The cynic believes that all actions are done for the benefit of the one doing them. Therefore, any reason or logic given for their motivation or purpose is in turn given toward their benefit. This makes perfect sense, if you believe the basic belief that everything is done selfishly.

The true difference is that a cynic is a skeptic who got fed up with their doubts and half-certainties and committed themselves to the belief of nothing ever being done selflessly.

So which is better? Which is worse? Are both bad? Are both good?

I believe that neither is good nor bad, better nor worse; both are necessary. In any situation there needs to be one person who can point out the bad. One person who realized the potential disaster that can come from anything no matter how grim that may be. Great achievements are made after the most unfortunate outcome is realized and prevented before it must be overcome.

Ultimately, it is best to be a realist. A realist understands the value of skeptics and cynics but also understands the need for optimists, because without optimists to see the good, there is no way for pessimists to see the bad. Because after all optimist, like cynic, is worth 12 Scrabble points.