April 30, 2021

Outlook on LIfe

What is your outlook life? Are you a “glass is half full” or a “glass half empty” kind of person? This is no small question, I realize. There is also no judgement associated with whatever you answer. The truth is that we probably spend some time staring at the old glass and see it both ways, depending on the day. I like to think that leaders move beyond looking at the glass and think about your underlying mindset of life.

In a previous post, I talked about the importance of dreams and hope. I just can’t get away from the fact that being hopeful about the future is better than the alternative. This point was brought home to me this week as I continue to reflect on the future of the organization I lead.

Anger in Society

You do not have to look too hard to find reasons to be unhopeful in today’s society. The media (print, broadcast, and social) literally make money on your anger. The more anger they can stoke in you, the more clicks, viewers, and advertisers they get…which means more money in their pocket. There is a payoff for them when you get mad and angry at something. The system is gamed to keep you in a constant state of anger.

The political and policy-making elites LOVE this anger. They can use the anger to direct political campaigns and shape policy decisions. This is no small thing. I recently met with some school board candidates who are worried about how they will answer the abortion question. Are you kidding me? How is that question related at all to the duties of a volunteer school board member? The answer is none. However, because abortion is a socially hot-button topic, no matter how they answer, one side of the political spectrum will be “angry”. If they are not sufficiently angry, then the media will stoke that anger. Ultimately, this does not reflect at all how the candidate will serve on the school board.

Cynical Pessimism

This cycle of anger leads to cynical pessimism. Pessimistic because a person believes there is not a lot of good in the world. Cynical because they refuse to believe there can be good in the world. This is a double whammy of negative thought. If you believe the world can be better, than your cynicism kicks in and says that good does not exist…or at least good does not exist in large enough quantities in the world to make a difference. A cynical pessimist is always anxious and is prone to believe the “bad” about people and institutions.

Naive Optimism

I strive to be a naïve optimist. Optimistic because I believe there is a lot of good in the world. Naïve because I believe there is potential for more “good” in the world to come. I attribute my naïve optimistic mindset on my career and my upbringing. Being an educator is one of the most hopeful careers you can have. Out of all of the learners you influence, you always believe they will be better because of your work. I also grew up on my grandparents’ farm. Farming is the most optimistic vocation. Literally, you plant seeds in the Spring with the expectation (some might say faith) that in the Fall you will harvest a crop that arose from the seed. That is the definition of optimism.

Being a naïve optimist does not mean you are not grounded in reality. Sure, sometimes kids are not better because of you. Sometimes, crops fail. However, I refuse to allow myself to believe that “good” cannot grow, that people that don’t look, act, or believe like me are “bad”, and that the world 50 years from now will not be better than the world today. For this reason, I will proudly wear the mantle of a naïve optimist.


Avoid all social media, newsfeeds, and cable news for 10 days. Let me know how you feel afterward.

About the author 

Tom Butler, Ph.D.

I believe that public education is for the public good and that education should be uncompromisingly learner-centered. The New Learning Ecosystem points us away from the old model of education that does not serve kids well. All educators regardless of where they work can help lead and contribute to the New Learning Ecosystem.

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