How to Be Optimistic Right Before a Panther Mauls You

Statue-ThinkerImagine for a moment that one day things go horribly wrong and you find yourself in a small room with a large panther.

There is a door in the room (thankfully) but the panther is ensconced in front of it (crap). In all likelihood, your rationality kicks in and you assess the situation. A predatory jungle cat is in a room with you, you are not a jungle cat tamer, and he (or she—it really doesn’t matter) is quite capable of killing you. So you have assessed the situation as a realist.

Now if you’re a pessimist, you’re in a really bad spot. You’re not assessing whether or not the panther will kill you, but how exactly you’ll be mauled and devoured, and if your cut-rate life insurance includes “accidental death by panther.”

But if you’re an optimist, you’ve already started to think about how you can get through that door. And for some inexplicable, perhaps asinine reason, you actually believe that you will get through that door.

I guess what I’m asking myself these days is this: Do I see life as a panther waiting to eat me, or an obstacle in the way of my door to freedom?

Growing up, I’d say I was an immature optimist. My optimism served as a way to protect me from accepting bad things would happen. Basically, I never even entertained the possibility of being trapped in a room with a panther. My life hadn’t seen many panthers, and I was pretty safe in my home and anywhere I went. Surely, I would just have the kind of life that existed without panthers. I was naive.

When we grow up and become fully responsible, positive thinking alone doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. Being positive can often be quite silly.

“Oh, Billy’s choking. It’s OK Billy. That thing will dislodge itself, I’m sure.”

“Wow Jean, never seen wheels just fall off the car like that. But at least you still have that unicycle.”

“Today my best friend kicked me in the face. Twice. Hooray for not three times!”

Those were ridiculous examples of course, but in reality being positive often seems downright inauthentic. As the bad experiences of life pile up, I think we get more and more pessimistic. We just expect bad things to happen, like a face kick or Billy choking. And eventually, when we find ourselves in the midst of the proverbial panther, we can’t possibly envision how we’ll avoid our leg being chewed off within five minutes. Where is there room for optimism?

I’ve come to find that optimism is not particularly the expectation of things going well, but the belief of things going well. If you’re a man interested in an attractive woman who appears to be totally out of your league, it can’t harm you to optimistically believe you can score a date with her. Because then, you might get a haircut, take a shower, spray on some Axe, rehearse your proposal, and who knows, she may just respond favorably. You could’ve been pessimistic and remained stinky and lonely, but your optimistic thoughts set you up for success. Now, she might find Axe repulsive and your face repugnant, and feed you some prevarication like she’s about to leave the country forever, but you would’ve absolutely never had a shot if you didn’t institute a modicum of hygiene in the first place.

But what about something serious, like our proverbial panther? Perhaps you’re without a job or you’ve received a troubling diagnosis. What if you simply can’t see a way to move past the panther and through the door? There’s a good chance optimism by itself won’t do. I wonder if the thing that’s better than optimism is hope.

The problem with hope is that it’s irrational. Hope doesn’t help me understand how to get out of a mess. Hope involves trust, trust in an outcome I can’t see but believe to be true. What’s scary is that if I just go on believing that I, myself, can find a way out of my dour predicament, I’ll be quite troubled when I rationalize that I have no ability to do so. Then what’s really scary is that I realize I need something else to help me. When no person in the world can rescue me from the panther room, where do I place my hope? In karma, in the universe, in a god?

Personally, I have to live my life believing that something, someone, will open up the door and save me from panther mauling. The idea of true optimism rooted in hope is terrifying—until we try it. Sure, it’s still hard, but when that first door is opened for us, just as we hoped it would, the way we live really begins to change.

Or at least it should. I’m still a work in progress.

Are you a pessimist? Optimist? Irrational hoper in something seemingly nebulous? I’d like to know.

Why I Sniff My Beer

By now, most of you have seen Budweiser’s Super Bowl commercial, marketing to beer drinkers who enjoy beer that is “brewed the hard way.”

The commercial, I think, is really good. I mean, who doesn’t get excited about Beechwood getting chopped, Clydesdales running free, and cold bottles of beer being served to fun, everyday people “who like to drink beer”? Throw in a stadium-rock instrumental overlaid by some in-your-faceisms and you have a commercial that is as enjoyable to watch as, well, drinking a cold beer. Yet while the commercial mastered its appeal to its hard-working, America-loving, get-your-drink-on clientele, it purposefully slighted those kind folks who don’t drink Budweiser at all: people who actually like good beer.

In the commercial, these folks are portrayed as snooty, beer-sipping, out-of-touch hipsters who would rather dissect and fuss over beer than just guzzle it down. And the portrayal is not unfair. We craft beer drinkers have become an odd sort, a very different kind of beer drinker than the one who has committed to macro brews and their brands. The differences between how these two camps consume beer are so stark that it is comical. But after watching the commercial and recognizing the fact that less than 10% of beer sales in America are craft beer, I get the feeling it is really the craft beer drinker who is being laughed at. And like at a middle school dance when the big bully has just made fun of you and everyone is laughing, you either take it and go sip on some Coke alone or you reply with an equally witty retort and go dance with the pretty girls. Well I’m no Coke sipper. I’m a beer drinker.

First and foremost, I enjoy the flavor of beer. Just like I enjoy the flavor of a good steak, or pizza, or ribs. I don’t say things like, “these ribs are excellently warm” or “the steak is pretty good right at the moment I’m not chewing it anymore.” A cool, crisp finish is great but I can get that with damn Fresca. And once you’ve had a damn Fresca, life gets a little bit better when you have Dom Perignon. When presented with the two you sure as crap don’t want to go back to Fresca again. So, when you have a really excellent beer that tastes like all the other things you love like chocolate and melon and fresh bread, being offered “golden suds” suddenly sounds like “urine-filled bubble bath water.”

Budweiser brews beer “the hard way” and “not to be fussed over.” I don’t fuss over beer, but is it so wrong to talk about while drinking it? What if granny makes a delicious chili con carne? We’d probably say things like, “Yum Granny, how did you make this here con carne? What ingredients did you use?” Or do we blow through her chili like it’s an afterthought and say things like, “Granny, did you make this the hard way? I hope you’ve been chopping wood all day and cooked this slowly over a log fire. If you can tell me you really sweat for this chili, I’d be inclined to go for seconds.” Of course we don’t say that, because it’s ignorant and rude. We like things that taste good and want to know why they taste good. If a lumberjack and a welder were involved in the brewing of my beer that’s fine, but I doubt they made significant contributions to its flavor.

We have to also address the implication made that sniffing beer is pretentious. Generally, if you want to taste something, you have to use your nose. Aromas received by the nose account for 50 percent of taste. It’s science. So when I sniff my beer, I’m not trying to look clever. I’m just trying to fully appreciate the wonder of this amazing libation. I mean, do you get how incredible beer is? It’s water cooked with barley and hops that is placed in bacteria for a period a time only to magically become a delectable elixir that makes our bodies happy. Four ingredients, from flavorless to dull to harsh to disgusting, are combined to create a carbonated, flavorful drink that—but by the grace of God—really should not happen.

Perhaps I’ve made my case for the craft brew contingent among us, but today I stand for all beer drinkers. If you like craft brew, we will sniff and swish it together and discuss things like ideal head retention and alpha acid dry hopping. If you prefer the macros, we will pop the top, have a nice swig, and simultaneously say “ahhhhh.” Because when it comes to beer, it shouldn’t divide us.

It should bring us together.