“I believe it was an optimist who invented the airplane; a pessimist invented the parachute.”

There’s an amusing story I heard years ago about a traveler who was on his way to a small town but became confused as to exactly how to get there.

Noticing an old timer sitting outside on a bench, he asked the man for directions to his destination. “Well,” the man on the bench replied, “you can go by the top road there or take the bottom road.”

“Which do you recommend?” the lost traveler inquired politely.

The old man remained seated on the wooden bench but after a moment replied, “Well, now, young feller, you must make up your own mind about that.” Then he added, “’Cause whichever way you go, you’ll wish you had taken the other way. Not only that, when you get there, you’ll probably wish you had never gone in the first place.”

If that’s not pessimism at its best, I don’t know what is. I suppose it’s true I’ve always been a “glass half full” kind of guy, refusing to give in to the pessimism of regret that often goes along with feeling sorry for one’s self. More than that, I’ve just never quite understood the pessimistic point of view.

The genius playwright and poet Oscar Wilde may have said it best when he once declared, “The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” Needless to say, I’ve seen (as well as eaten) more than my fair share of donuts, especially the chocolate covered kind loaded with sprinkles.

For me, optimism is always the best choice. In fact, I’ve never been able to deal with negativity either in my professional or personal life. It’s believing something I once read: “There’s never been a monument erected to a pessimist.”

When one of our most admired presidents, Thomas Jefferson, was a young man he was traveling with a small group of companions cross country on horseback. They soon came to a widely flooded river that had overflowed its bank and a bridge had been washed away.

But the small group of men decided to force a crossing on horseback knowing the difficulty and danger of crossing the rapids.

One man who was not in Jefferson’s party asked him if he would please take him across the river on his horse. With no hesitation, Jefferson agreed, and the two men crossed and safely reached the other side.

When asked of the group of men, why he chose Jefferson to carry him across, the man said “All I know is some of your faces seemed to have ‘no’ written all over them. But Jefferson’s face seemed to answer ‘yes’ even before I asked. His was a ‘yes’ face.’”

Perhaps that’s it in a nutshell. Optimists seem to believe not only in the possible but the best possible outcome as well. It’s the difference between someone saying, “Isn’t it a pity that roses have thorns?”

While someone else declares, “Isn’t it wonderful that thorns have roses?”

Mike Fitsko is a retired principal and longtime columnist from New Braunfels.

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