The little boy ran into his father’s office. It was well past the boys bed time, but he had snuck downstairs and been watching a science program on cable. His father liked his son’s interest in learning, but on occasion, the shows would frighten him. Tonight the little boy of eight, had watched a program about super volcanos.
He explained to his dad that there is a volcano in Yellowstone National Park. The father listened to his boy go over every detail. The look on the boys face was a mixture of fear and excitement. The excitement came from learning something new. His face always lit up when he was being taught. It didnt matter whether it was how to properly field a sharply hit ground ball, or intructions on the best way to build a campfire, his son loved it all. The look of fear was less common, but the father had seen it just a week earlier.
It had been a similar night when the boy ran in and explained that he had just seen a show about ‘planet killers’. Apparently the odds of the earth being hit by a comet or asteroid, which is large enough to cause human extention, are just 1:5000. The boy reasoned that since they knew someone who had won the state lotter, which was odd of 1:2,100,000, that 1:5000 seemed very possible. The father hadn’t known exactly how to respond to his son’s logic, and had been a bit disappointed in the lame reassurances he had given his boy. The father had thought about this often since then.
Now he was faced with super volcanos. His son explained that if the Yellowstone National Park’s super volcano errupted, it would so greatly change the atomosphere that we would likely end up in another ice age. The most frightening part, he explained with a seriousness, which was so cute it almost made the father smile, was that the volcano errupts every 600,000 years, and has errupted twice. Then the little boy paused for effect. He asked, “Dad, do you know how long it has been since the last erruption?”
It took every bit of the father’s self control to remain serious in the face of this serious question, and seriously cute little boy. “No, I do not.”
“It has been 640,000 years!” the little boy said emphatically, then lowered his voice and crawled up on his father’s lap. “What will we do? It could happen any time.”
This time the father was ready to give an answer. He gave him a hug and handed him his calculator. “You are eight years old, I want you to think about that.”
The boy nodded, but corrected, “I am eight and one third.”
“Yes you are, you are 8.33 years old,” the father smiled and continued, “If you live to be as old as your grandfather, you will live to be 100 years old. How many more years is that?”
The boy didn’t need the calculator, “It is 91.66 years.”
“That is correct. Now you are worried about the volcano errupting during your life, right?”
“Yes, it is way over due,” said the little boy with a sigh.
“Now I want you to think about the last 40,000 years. How many times does 91.66 go into 40,000?”
The little boy punched this into the calculator and answered, “The answer is 436.39.”
The father went on to explain how it would have been a shame if all those 436 generations of people had spent their entire lives worrying about something which they couldn’t control? The little boy agreed that it wouldn’t be fun to be worried all the time. His father asked him if he knew what optimism and pessimism meant?
The little boy scrunched up his face and thought for a while, then admitted that he didn’t. The father explained that one can spend their life looking for positive things or for negative things. The father pointed to his glass on the desk. “Do you see this?” He poured some Pepsi into the glass. “What do you see?”
The little boy knew that his father wanted a precise answer, because this is how his father liked to teach him. He said, “I see one of mom’s favorite glasses. It is tall and thin. It is half full of pepsi, which I am assuming, because I saw you pour it from the can. Now I don’t for sure if it was Pepsi in the can, because you could have filled the can with something else, as I didn’t see you open the can.”
The father chuckled. His son liked to watch CSI and sounded a bit like he belonged on the show. “Yes, that is a very good answer. Very precise. You described it has being half full, you saw the positive, you are an optimist. If you had said, it is half empty, then you would be a pessimist. Do you understand?”
The little boy had a big smile on his face. “It is a choice! Everything can be described in different ways.”
The father was very proud. “Yes, that is right.” He looked at the clock and it was now very much past the little boy’s bed time. “Now what do you think about Super Volcanos?”
The little boy thought for a long time, then said, “Well I guess we can’t stop it, so we might as well be happy now, and not waste our time worrying.”
“I agree. Do you feel better?” The father ask.
“Well then you should be off to bed, before your mother catches us. We will both be in trouble…and unhappy, if that happens.”
The boy got off his father’s lap and headed for the stairs. Just before he got there, he turned and said. “I like being an optimist. It is a good way to live.”
The Answer as I see it
The world is a big place, unless one considers the size of the universe, then it is so tiny as to almost not exist at all. With this in mind I feel compelled to answer the question, with a question, which is horribly rude, but alas that is what I am going to do.
Q: Is There A Reason To Be Optimistic?
A: Is there a comelling reason not to be Optimistic?
I am sure there are plenty of angry, bitter, pessimistic people, who could real off lists of things, that are wrong with the world. But I am not one of them. I have only a list of things I love…
- The thrill of capturing a beautiful photograph.
- The feel of wood which has been sanded to 600 grit.
- The joy of accomplishment at having completed a project.
- The happiness I feel when learning something new.
- The wonderfulness of, not knowing, what is still to come.
- Cats….and sometimes Dogs.
So those are a few of my reasons, why I am optimistic. I would love to read some of yours.
Alternate Ending…for the Pessimists
The little boy laid his head down on his pillow and drifted off to sleep. He truly felt better after the talk. He liked knowing two new words. A word which wasn’t in his vocabluary though, was irony. For just three hours later, an astroid, roughly the size of Padauka Kentucky, slammed into the home of the little boy, killing him, his family, they guy who won the lottery and most of the west coast instantly. The impact caused the erruption of the super volcano and eventually to the destruciton of 99.9 percent of mankind, and another ice age.
In the wayning hours of mankind, the pessimists experienced the collective joy of the greatest, “I told you so” moment in history. It is the only point in time where they were known to be happy.