Positive Outlook that Compromises

There is always a thin blurry line between positive outlook and compromise leading to outcomes that are worse-off. Sure, it is non-intuitive and non-obvious, but the more I think about this, the more certain I become about the interchangeability of the two.

We, as social and emotional beings, are great rationalizers. That is, we are really amazing at justifying in hindsight to past events. If something goes against one’s wish, the positive attitude bearing person will rationalize the seemingly out-of-control event by hunting for a silver lining. The problem starts when every event starts appearing to be out-of-control, and every situation is rationalized in a positive light – essentially leading to a compromised life. Unfortunately, this often occurs so subtly and gradually that it is easy to miss the early indicators till it is too late.

Let me provide some concrete examples, from mild to extreme.

At a more everyday level, consider your daily commute. If you live in any of our big cities, chances are you travel by public transport at some point or the other. Imagine you just missed the bus or train that would directly take you to your office or school. Instead, now you must take a roundabout route that drops you off a little bit further away. How many times have you rationalized this compromise with the thought that the longer roundabout route will give you more time sleeping or reading or listening to music? Or that because you are further away from your destination, you will walk the last bit and get some much needed exercise? Sure, these positive outlook rationalizations make you happy, and by all means, be happy – but in the end, these are all nothing other than compromises.

Imagine yourself as an eager-to-please student or a new joinee in a professional setting. It is extremely easy to play with your emotions and positive attitude to drive you to work harder, to provide better output and in general, to develop you, by highlighting that you can do more, perform significantly better and up the bar so that it becomes a way-of-life for you. You rationalize the often unnecessary hard work by justifying that you are doing it to maintain standards, to improve your capabilities and to grow. Not working actually makes you guilty, to the point that you cannot really relax and enjoy the simple pleasures of life. Living in the slow rustic lane is just not an option anymore.

I work as a management consultant, and the hours, effort and stress are anything but normal. Sure, there’s satisfaction and money in the bank at the end of the month, and for some people, that is rationalization enough. Others, at some level, accept the status quo of having to lead a life that is beyond their general control, coming to terms with the fact that they will have to actively manage their life to restore some sense of normalcy. They believe that they are living what passes for a productive life – rich and wholesome – and I don’t blame them, or even insinuate that this is wrong. But this positive outlook is essentially a compromise – a compromise that people won’t voice out, or worse, even believe, because they have rationalized it with their positive outlook. Many times over.

I could go on and on with examples, but three is as good a number as any.

The positive outlook based rationalization is a short-term coping mechanism – something that gets us through the bad patches in life. It is what stops us from getting multiple coronary disorders. It is easy for the mind to retreat in a make-believe world where everything is hunky-dory while the reality is stark – ala the Matrix. The real question, like in the film, is, should we recognize this as a problem and tread cautiously on the blurry thin line, or just take the easy way out of incepting compromise as a positive outcome?

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