The Future Is Bright, Tomorrow Not So Much

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and embrace the long term.

We don’t really know what will happen tomorrow. I mean, we have an idea (likely the same as what happened today), but we don’t know for certain. Nor can we really predict whether someone will behave in a certain way or follow the rules. It’s likely that they will behave as they always have, but sometimes we get surprised.

The phrase ‘short term pessimism, long term optimism’ says a lot about our disposition toward uncertainty, our understanding of human nature, and generally how the future might unfold.

For instance, you could be an optimist in the short and long term and see the world through rose tinted glasses feeling that by and large everything is moving in the right direction.

You could also be a pessimist in the short and long term and generally feel that things have been bad and will continue to get worse (think your standard Cormic McCarthy novel).

Alternatively, you could be a short term optimist and a long term pessimist, feeling that by and large things are great now but there will likely be some cataclysmic event down the road that will turn everyone on their head (think the 1990’s up to the recession).

The phrase ‘short term pessimism, long term optimism’ says a lot about our disposition toward uncertainty, our understanding of human nature, and generally how the future might unfold.

A unique position

Standing opposite to those views is the short term pessimist and long term optimist (for here out referred to as a “SHORT-LONG”). So what does that entail?

Essentially it comes down to someone who has their doubts about near term events but generally feels things get sorted out over time. For instance, someone can be a short term pessimist about politics (that there will continue to be gridlock and bickering), the market (that stocks are volatile and we should be cautious about investing), or your career (starting a new career is grinding and requires a lot of hustle), but that pessimism is offset by a belief that in the long term, people work out their differences, stocks average out, and careers generally take an upward turn.

While some may say that having a optimistic outlook in the long term is naive, there is substantial evidence to suggest that the future will be better than what we have today. Look no further than the the considerable advances in the standard of living since the turn of the 20th Century. Or more recently that in 2012 79% of household had internet access, as compared to 68% in 2009 and 50% in 2001. Taking a step away from economics, think about how far we have come since the 1950s in terms of gender equality, LGBTQ rights, environmental conservation, and many other important social issues. The road to get there was tough and there is still much more work to be done, but overall things have been moving (and will continue to move) in the a positive direction.

Taking action

SHORT-LONGs are cautious about human nature, their passions, and the ability of someone to run amok of a situation. They recognize that things often get ugly. Turn on the news and it’s easy to feel like things are bad. Well they often are bad and in some cases they get worse. Greed, hubris, and intolerance are all part of life. It’s unfortunate, but we can’t expect them to magically disappear.

Instead, SHORT-LONGs recognize the importance of institutions (such as laws, social conventions, and religion) that tend to temper and moderate our more extreme tendencies. When those don’t work, people won’t tolerate a bad situation over the long term and they work together to bring a solution to the problem.

SHORT-LONGs have an appreciation for complexity. Sometimes the solution to a problem isn’t the one we thought would happen. They recognize that it takes many people (often working independently) to make change happen. Everyone contributes a little bit to the whole. Sometimes it takes a lot of arguing to work through issues, sometimes there are numerous failures and bumps along the way, but as each conflict gets resolved progress becomes more sustainable.

Hedging against the downside

A SHORT-LONG is also someone who will hedge their bets. They have an appreciation for volatility. Sometimes it can be used to your advantage, other times it is something to be buffered against. Sometimes it is best to minimize our losses. Ups and downs are a natural cycle, so while the ups are great, we need to also have a plan for staying afloat during the downs. While SHORT-LONGs tend to have a slightly more conservative disposition, they recognize that change is both necessary and inevitable. We don’t always know how the change will unfold, but we can figure out how to make the most of it.

The future indeed is bright

Next time you get depressed while watching the news or getting caught up in some political debate or argument, take a step back and evaluate it for what it is. If all we focus on is the short term (as painful as it often is), we fail to recognize the bigger picture. The future looks better everyday, even if the path to get there looks grim.