The thin line between optimism and delusion

Picture courtesy — Unspash

In the 2019 Cricket World Cup semi-finals, India faced off against New Zealand. India was on a winning run, having lost only one match against England up until their semi-final clash and were strong favorites not just to beat New Zealand but also win the World Cup. It was a face-off that most people were hoping for as it was largely thought that India, with its batting superpower and lethal bowling attack, would find a sedate New Zealand easier to beat than Australia.

Many things didn’t go according to plan beginning with a rain interruption that forced the match to be completed on the reserve day.

But the wheels truly came off when India began their chase.

Throughout the tournament, Rohit Sharma had been India’s talisman, scoring five centuries and laying the foundation for big scores. The middle-order was always a concern and in most matches, a good start by the openers with Virat Kohli playing handy innings meant that the middle order was not really tested.

On the day of the semi-finals, it was as if Murphy’s Law had descended upon the Indian batting line-up. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.

In a span of the first few minutes, three batsmen were back in the pavilion and the score read 5 for 3. Of the three, two were Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli, pillars of the Indian batting line-up. This meant that the middle order, which was shielded from the ravaging new ball till that point of time, stood exposed.

Later, Virat Kohli said that those 45 minutes of madness cost the team the match and a place in the final.

But here’s the interesting part — no one stopped following the match after the initial massacre. People were praying for rain, for a miracle, and were still vaguely optimistic about a victory.

While Ravindra Jadeja played what could be termed as the innings of his life and actually resuscitated hopes of a victory, he perished in a quest to increase the run-rate. A struggling MS Dhoni, whose powers as a finisher have seen better days, struggled to play the big shots and got run-out. Though many termed that the point when the match finally went out of India’s grasp, the truth was that Ravindra Jadeja was the key to an improbable victory.

People watched because as long as Jadeja and then Dhoni were at the crease, a victory could not be ruled out. I call such situations optimism against hope.

I think if the Indian side had given up, they wouldn’t have even got so far. The match would have been over much before because the batsmen would have just thrown away their wickets. Somewhere, there was a sense of optimism that things could be turned around though on that fateful day, that optimism didn’t come to fruition.

Even if you veer more towards pessimism, and you still watched the match till the end, you still have some bit of optimism left in you.

If you’re someone who still roots for your team even if they’re down and out, it’s optimism at work.

Many times, optimism is misunderstood. It is thought that an optimist doesn’t have their feet on the ground, that they are dreaming up the impossible, that they don’t see a challenge for what it is, that they believe they can change anything without even understanding the real problem. All of these are half-truths in their own right, but not the entire truth.

Being optimistic without a plan or refusing to accept a situation for what it is, or not learning from mistakes, qualifies as a delusion.

Optimism isn’t one thing. Rather, it has certain characteristics. Here are a few:

a) Taking the best out of a losing or bad situation

Pessimism inevitably blocks you from learning anything. An optimist doesn’t say they have succeeded after falling short or ignore a loss. The captain of a losing team doesn’t throw a party to celebrate a loss. But to even pick up the pieces and begin afresh involves a certain degree of optimism.

b) Beginning without knowing if something will work

This is not to be confused with beginning without a plan or a roadmap. When charting a new course, there is no guarantee of success. Pessimists will look for all the loopholes and everything that can go wrong and hence, never begin or try something different. On the other hand, an optimist begins, knowing fully that nothing is guaranteed. The important thing to note here is that even beginning something, make a fresh start, see things from a new perspective, all involve a massive optimism investment.

c) Possess more energy to find solutions

When you offer help or a suggestion to a pessimist, you will be rebuffed more often than not. It also goes without saying that we would rather be around optimistic people as it’s easier to feed off from their energy. The alternative is to have the life sucked out of you by pessimists.

When we see someone we deem to be an optimist, we believe that their days are all happy and sunny and challenges and problems do a U-turn when they see them. Not true.

How do I know all of this? Because I am a lifelong pessimist trying to break on through to the other side.

In the end, one of the most underrated benefits of optimism is that it gives you just enough energy to walk away from a losing situation, or find a new path, or recognize help when it is being offered.

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