“The Big Short” was a film released last year covering the collapse of the housing market and unearthing the apathy behind some of the most fraudulent loans ever created. The movie (perhaps excessively) makes mention of optimism and cynicism as driving forces behind the main actions of the characters. It’s hard to criticize it for making this claim, as we know from the aftermath of the collapse there were many signs of a collapsing market but nobody pointed it out because it seemed like everything was going to be okay.
It’s hard not to note that this type of attitude is present in nearly every aspect of life. We’re constantly told to be optimists! and see the sunnier side of things. It’s now an industry making millions (hint: it’s a scam) built on a foundation of smiles and good feelings. This commercial push is furthered enhanced by our increased usage of curated social media. As social creatures we can’t help but compare ourselves to each other.
Not only does this impact our ability to recognize fragile systems it’s been noted to also be detrimental to our mental health. The optimism bubble creates an impossible environment to admit when something has actually gone wrong. This pop-based psychology backfires and causes resentment and isolation, “Why aren’t I happy? What is wrong with me?”
And despite “The Big Short” being an exceptionally well-made movie (more editorializing here), it’s guilty of doing the exact same thing in the reverse manner. Mark Baum and his clan of cynicism bandits are angry because being angry and being cynical are the same thing.
Now what if we moved away from the viewpoint words of optimism and cynicism and looked instead at their emotional equivalents? What we’re actually talking about here is happiness and sadness which are two emotions equally as uplifted and demonized.
I’d hesitate to say the goal of finding happiness is less worthy of an experience than the journey through sadness although I’d argue sadness is much more compelling.
Marc Maron’s podcast originally started with mini-rants which he called “what the fuck” moments. His podcast has been received with universal acclaim as his pessimistic attitude and his interviews have made for the most compelling content on the platform. Why? Because it’s balanced. Because complexity is interesting. Because only being happy or optimistic is not human.
These two viewpoints which we’ve decided we have to choose from affects our ability to critically think our way through a situation. This is usually mistakenly attributed to being too emotional (too angry, too happy, too sad, etc) but the actual problem is we’re ignoring we need a balance in order to properly solve a problem. You have to look at both sides.
I’ve been noticing this comes up time and time again as I sort my way through the beginning stages of learning how to manage humans. Choosing to only view the world in one way alienates an entire swath of people who can add value to your team if you gave them some breathing room.
You have to be willing to admit there’s a problem to begin with and remove your head from the sand. It’s okay to say things suck right now or listen to them tell you what’s wrong. Grieve that you don’t have a perfect situation and enjoy laughing about it. When you’re done, you both can put your heads down and figure out how to fix it.
↩︎  To be fair, if the housing market is built on toothpicks and no one wants to say anything about it because they're getting rich, you probably have good reason to be pretty angry.