Are You An Optimist or Pessimist? Confucius Says, Be Both

Confucius would say, you are not a type, you are potential and trajectory. Who you think you are is only how you currently feel.

By Sam Yang - Get similar updates here

Which type of worldview do you hold? Did the above illustration make you laugh how spot on it was? Do you have a better sense of what category you belong to? What containers your friends belong in? What box to check in your dating profile? Does it help you better organize your world? But does that not also help the world better organize you?

We love figuring ourselves out. We love taking quizzes to tell us who we are, because, we believe we do not have a good sense of it. We doubt our senses because they tell us we are messy and complicated, and we somehow have it in our heads that we should be simple and neat.

Then I have two questions: what if we perceive a complex self because we are indeed complex. (We are the most advanced creatures on earth with millions of years of evolution.) Secondly: is this preprogrammed pursuit of our one identity making us any happier? If finding our one true self is not truthful, but it somehow makes us happy, then so be it. But if it is neither accurate nor making us happy, perhaps we should reconsider why we do it.

Simple delusion or complex truth. Straightforward discord or fluid harmony. Like a rock or like water. The course is yours to take.

Confucius Says...

Confucius (551 – 479 BCE) seems to have the most practical philosophy on identity. He thought, if we were only one identity out of a list of identities, then that would be limiting. Being limited would conflict with our ability to adjust and change with our evolving circumstances. If we cannot adjust, we cannot maintain harmony (happiness). We become incompatible with our surroundings. A better and more accurate view of ourselves would be: our identity is plural and fluid. Once we understand this, rather than reinforcing aspects of ourselves that are stagnant and bothersome, we can get to the business of figuring out how to best make necessary changes and better ourselves.

Rather than using all of our energy solving our identity crisis, why not use that energy to solve problems? After all, solving ourselves does not guarantee we solve our problems. In fact, it only reinforces the idea that we are a problem to solve. This develops a problematic relationship with ourselves, where our solution begets the problem.

Binary thinking has its place, like ordering from a fast food menu: "do you want fries with that worldview?" Yes or no. But it does little to help deal with intelligent creatures. In logic, this is called a "false dichotomy," where you are led to believe an answer is one or the other when in reality there can be many possible answers. It leads people astray from real answers, and real answers may have numerous interchanging parts.

(Confucian Identity | Tim Hipps)

(Confucian Identity | Tim Hipps)

When we identify ourselves, this is the type of person I am, there is some instant gratification. Relief of uncertainty and confirmation bias is temporarily gratifying. However, in the long-term, lacking any real solutions to adversity, uncertainty creeps back.

Confucius would say, you are not a type, you are potential and trajectory. Who you think you are is only how you currently feel. You have the potential to be otherwise. If unsatisfied, create a new trajectory, but set no fixed destination so that you may alter course as needed.

Be what you need to be, based on the circumstances. Be who you need to be, to change your circumstances.

Imagine This Conversation With Confucius

A young student asks Confucius, "Is the glass half full?"

"Yes," says Confucius.

"Is the glass half empty?" asks the student.

"Yes," says Confucius.

"Are you an optimist?" asks the student.

"I can be," Confucius answers.

"Are you a pessimist?" asks the student.

"I can be," Confucius answers.

"Are you an introvert?" asks the student.

"I can be," Confucius answers.

"Are you an extrovert?" asks the student.

"I can be," Confucius answers.

"Are you happy?" asks the student.

"I can be," Confucius answers.

"Are you sad?" asks the student.

"I can be," Confucius answers.

The Fluid Worldview

This fluid view is not only necessary for mental health, but it is also empowering. If you are sad, yes you can find a frowny face on a chart. But if you asked yourself, "could I be happy?" Your answer would dictate the reality of your experience. If your answer were, "no, I cannot be happy," then no, you could never be happy — you have closed that door. If you said, "yes, I can be happy," this does not mean you will automatically be happy as it will still take work, but you have left that option wide open. When distressed, what if you thought: "I am sad, but I do not have to be. I am not happy, but I could be." This is freeing. To believe you are only one thing is self-limiting. Picking one identity may seem benign but what it could lead to is a self-defeating future.

Next time someone asks you if you are an optimist or a pessimist, say, "Yes I am and so are you."

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