Optimist, Realist, Skeptic, or Cynic?

By Dr. Harold J. Sala

For as he thinks in his heart, so is he…  Proverbs 23:7, NKJV

Draw a line and then write four words from left to right: optimist, realist, skeptic, and cynic.  In so doing you move from sunshine to partly cloudy, to sodden gray sky, to near darkness.  The young woman who is an optimist says, “Hey, there are lots of handsome guys here.”  The realist says, “There are a few good men left, but not many!”  The skeptic says, “I doubt that there is one for me; I’ll probably end up being an old maid.”  And the cynic says, “I’m sure that I’ll never find anyone to marry.”

Any casual observer of human nature acknowledges that different people look at the same situation and come up with vastly different perceptions.  The optimist smiles and says, “Life is really wonderful!”  The realist neither smiles nor frowns and says, “Life has its ups and downs.”  The corners of the skeptic’s mouth turn down as he says, “I doubt that things will ever be much better” while the cynic frowns saying, “I’m sure I’ll die from this problem.”

Surprising as it may be, individuals who are born to the same parents, have grown up in the same homes, eaten the same food, and gone to the same school often have vastly different outlooks on life.  And if you are a student of history or the Bible, you recognize that it’s always been that way.  Two sisters who figure prominently in the life of Jesus, Mary and Martha, who with their brother Lazarus lived in Bethany, illustrate the point.  Mary was the optimist; Martha was the skeptic.  The former was sure that Jesus was in control; the latter questioned that He had even understood the issue.

The coach who is an optimist says, “This team has great potential; one of the best I’ve ever seen.”  The realist, however, is not so sure.  He says, “Definitely there’s talent here.  We have a pretty good chance of making the play-offs.”  The skeptic says, “We’ll probably die before we get to the play-offs,” and the cynic says, “Not a chance.  They’ll never do it.”

And—are you ready for this?  Each one of you is exactly right.  The optimist has an infectious smile.  He looks people in the eye, convincing them that they can do what they never thought possible.  The realist doesn’t excite people the same way.  “You might just do it,” he says, “and then again, you might not.”  Nothing about that attitude that causes you to put out 110%.  The skeptic—God deliver us from the same—registers surprise when his team wins.  “Boy, you surprised me,” he says.  And the cynic?  You’ll never find a cynic with a winning team.  He’s the one who says, “I knew you guys couldn’t do it.”

OK, what’s the point on today’s commentary?  You are the one who decides what happens.  Attitude is everything.  When you believe, your faith makes things happen.  The writer of Scripture said, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (see Proverbs 23:7).  While that may not let you shoot hoops like Shaq O’Neil or the seven foot giant Yao Ming in the NBA, your attitude has everything to do with maximizing your potential.

It’s quite amazing how your thinking makes the difference between failure and success.

Where do you see yourself on that spectrum ranging from optimist to cynic?  It’s true, our basic personalities are a reflection of our DNA and factors that we are born with, but it’s amazing how attitude pushes us in the direction we want to go—no matter where it is.

Remember, your thinking determines your behavior, and your behavior decides whether you win or lose.  Choose to win.  It’s something that only you can do.

Resource reading: Philippians 1:1-6.

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