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X-Square: Being realistic

June 24, 2012

Sindh definitely has taken the lead this time in pumping a load of moolah into the education sector, and, for once, let’s hope in all sincerity that the money will be well spent. It will be a tough call though.

Election year budgets have their own dynamics. They are conceived and prepared under the pressure of having to generate a feel-good factor as well as something to brag about when it comes to the ritual of vote-seeking. Negating that pressure is the realisation on the part of the budget-makers that they won’t be around to take the blame at the end of the fiscal for any lack of execution.

Seen together, the two elements make it easier to make announcements and pronouncements that are otherwise not quite sustainable. This is not to cast aspersions on the intention of the lawmakers in Sindh; just an attempt to be more realistic than optimistic. Come to think of it, one has nothing to lose in taking that approach.

We often come across people glorifying the virtues of being an optimist. Most of their eloquence, however, is in comparing optimism with its half-brother, pessimism, concluding with great ease that the latter can never be an option. After all, what’s the point in looking at the world around you through pale blinds, they would argue. There is a lot of brightness, a lot of colour around. Why can’t we try to enjoy such bounties? Why snail through life with drooping shoulders? So far, so good.

The irony is that most of the people who initially go around sprinkling sunshine on whatever and whoever comes their way, often end up flopping in a heap when such borrowed sunshine fails to light up their own lives. It does not happen initially, of course, but when the dreaded element of frequency begins to crop up in the equation, it happens, and it happens more often than not. In the context of the current discussion itself, just count the number of times you have felt happy about some government move, only to realise later that you had missed the catch in the first go. You feel a low in spirits, don’t you?

So, while pessimism should definitely not be on anybody’s recommendation list, optimism itself is not the ideal thing to go for. And it is here that realism comes to your rescue. Hope for the best; be ready for the worst, goes the maxim. Realism goes a step beyond that. It entails hoping in realistic terms.

We all have heard of that hackneyed way of defining optimism as against pessimism. Yes, that same half-filled; half-empty glass of water that is churned out endlessly. A realist, though there may not be many who would lay claim to such an existence, would argue that even the definition of that glass would depend on the circumstantial realities of the moment when someone is put to answer the famed question. It will depend on the level of thirst one has at the time of being asked to describe the glass. The answer by someone who might have just had water and is not feeling thirsty will be different from the one who might be dying of thirst. The answer will vary not because of their being pessimists or optimists, but simply because of the reality of that one particular moment.

And, don’t forget the man, who, as the story goes, threatened his boss to “raise my salary, or else ...” He was a good realist. He had a clear idea of his net worth to the organisation; he knew his own chances of any lateral movement in a parallel organisation; and, above all, he knew the way national economy (his, not ours!) was moving at the time.

So, while he took his chance to confront the boss and went as far as he could, sanity prevailed in the end, his threat ending with his willingness to “continue working on the same salary”. Had he been an optimist, he just might have given it another try. And who knows who might have had the last hurrah. Realism is about thinking of the consequences in case the boss had it.

And, while realism does give you that added cushion to face whatever the outcome may be, it does not take away any of the virtues of optimism. It is Optimism Plus, if you like. It does not stop you from putting in your best under any kind of circumstances. It just helps you calculate the odds in practical terms.

So the next time you plan to do anything — or your government, for that matter, does it for you — try to be realistic about the outcome. Try it. You won’t regret it. That’s a promise!