Thursday, July 11, 2013

Realistic Pessimist vs. Unrealistic Optimist?

I've spent quite a while mulling over what the subject of my first post should be. I told myself it should be something momentous, memorable, and smart, but the end result of my procrastination consideration is that I haven't written anything. This was meant to be a personal record, so I need to quit stalling and record something.

My thoughts over the past week or so have been concerned with optimism vs. pessimism, and how realism figures into each of those. I often think of myself as a pessimist, with the idea that if things turn out really well then I'll be pleasantly surprised. I do have to make an effort not to be overly negative and judgmental, but I also wonder if I'm simply being unrealistic in hoping that people will do their jobs or behave in a better than average way.

Recently, I have been involved in a financial/legal transaction, requiring the signing of mountains of paperwork. A week ago I signed everything in the first hill of paperwork, exactly as I was told to, even though I questioned some of the ways I was being told to sign my name. My legal name is spelled in a slightly different way than the usual, but nothing really crazy. I was told to just sign my name in the way it was specified on the documents, even though it was clearly incorrect. At the beginning of this week I had to start the first of many, many phone calls to The Powers That Be since the expected results from the signed paperwork had not happened. Days elapsed, different stories were told, different people got involved, with the end result that I needed to sign another mountain of the same paperwork, but my name would be spelled correctly this time, just the way I told them it should be signed the first time. I rearranged my life to go sign the second set of papers after being told that everything was perfect this time and they were sorry for the inconvenience. When I arrived for Signing #2, every instance of my name was spelled incorrectly instead of just some of them. I balked, phone calls were made to Even Higher Powers, time passed, I fumed, and eventually corrections were made, the same corrections I asked for at Signing #1. The people handling these transactions were busy with self-congratulatory comments; "Look how well we fixed this!" and "We're so happy that we finally got this right!" I have high hopes that the third set of documents will be the charm, but this is based on hopes and wishes, not trust or confidence that the job will actually be handled correctly. This past week has truly been a celebration of rampant stupidity and incompetence.

That is a too-long, rambling story, but this scenario has occupied much of my time and thoughts. Is it wrong to expect people to do their jobs, especially in high-stakes (legal/financial/medical) professions, in a competent manner? If I expect competence (and I do in most instances), is this unrealistic and am I doomed to disappointment and resentment? I don't mean lower-stakes transactions like ordering food and receiving the wrong item, a small overcharge at the grocery store, an item ordered online not delivered on time, etc. I understand that mistakes happen, and am certainly guilty of making them left and right myself. But when transactions that have a major affect on people's lives are screwed up again and again, I truly wonder why people don't stop and question "why did this happen and how can we prevent this in the future?" I've asked these questions of the people involved in the story above, and was very bluntly dismissed.

I don't want to be a judgmental, crotchety pessimist, but I also can't bring myself to behave like an unrealistic optimist. If anyone is reading and has some thoughts, I truly would love to hear them. Can we/should we expect better than average behavior and competence? Is that an unreasonable expectation simply because most people will perform at an average level, thus the bell-shaped curve? What makes a person an optimist or pessimist? Is it wrong and unrealistic to expect reasonableness in what may be an increasingly unreasonable world? I haven't arrived at any answers, but some reading, knitting, and alcohol may help with this situation.

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