Subject Material

The Force of Optimism

Published: 15.08.2012, Updated: 04.03.2017
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Glass of Water

When you look at this picture would you say the glass is half full or half empty? If you chose the first you would be considered to be an optimist. Check around the class, how many consider themselves optimists and how many the opposite, pessimists.

An optimist is a person who always believes in a positive outcome. Was the financial crisis a disaster or could it be a new beginning for a better world? If you are training to work in the chemical industry when the local chemical plant closes down and the industry Car for Easy Parking. Was this car invented by someone who was pessimistic about finding a big enough parking space?Car for Easy Parking. Was this car invented by someone who was pessimistic about finding a big enough parking space?
Fotograf: Yuri Kageyama
in general is struggling to compete internationally, do you give up your studies and try something else or do you believe that new opportunities will be available when you are finished your course? Some people even believe that strong positive thinking will find you a parking place in a crowded town centre! A pessimist on the other hand has a gloomy view of the future; he believes that one should prepare for the worst and then one will never be disappointed; either one is proven right or events work out better than expected.

Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian- American journalist, believes that it was optimism that brought down Mubarak’s government; belief in a better life drove the revolution forward.
(Optimism: The Ultimate Revolutionary Act)  

The Norwegian swimmer, Alexander Dale Oen, who died tragically on April 30th, 2012, lived and worked according to the philosophy – forget the negative and concentrate on everything positive. (Aftenposten, Saturday, 5 May, 2012) This had led him to becoming one of the world’s top swimmers, despite coming from a country not usually associated with international swimming. The newspaper article quotes a fellow swimmer who says that Dale Oen was expert at seeing possibilities and solutions to a problem.

The organization Optimistes Sans Frontières or Optimists Without Borders claims that we have to believe in a better world; promote positive thinking to create positive action. Greater humanity and beauty will result from a positive active approach by people with an optimistic outlook. Optimists Without Borders

However, there are others who believe that we are fooling ourselves if we put our faith in positive thinking. It is better, they say, to prepare for future disasters – natural or man-made. But are positive thinking and preparing for possible problems in the future mutually exclusive? Does being an optimist stop us from taking preventative action against possible disasters? Is it not a question of seeing the possibilities, seizing them and using them to build a better future.

Optimist vs. Pessimist

  1. Here are two examples of famous quotations about optimism. Find two others you like and present them to the class. Explain why you chose them. How would you describe the difference between an optimist and a pessimist?

    "A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties."  (Harry Truman)
    "Both optimists and pessimists contribute to our society.  The optimist invents the airplane and the pessimist the parachute." (Gil Stern)

    Quote Garden, Brainy Quotes 
  2. Make a list of the pros and cons of being an optimist or a pessimist.
  3. Find a suitable picture and make a caption including "pessimist" or "optimist" similar to the one above.


  1. Find examples of the use of optimism (by the public, politicians, etc.) to create enthusiasm and hope in a society in crisis? (e.g. in connection with financial crisis, WWII, wars, unrest)
  2. How can positive or negative thinking influence your future – the choices you will make and your creativity? Give examples of where you will be in ten years time if you think (a) optimistically and (b) pessimistically.
  3. Is optimism and positive thinking alone capable of producing a better future?

Mona Eltahawy

Who is Mona Eltahawy? Mona Eltahawy 

Listen to approx.14 minutes of the speech, Optimism: The Ultimate Revolutionary Act, and then answer the questions below.

  1. What happened after Mona Eltahawy had decided on the title of her talk?
  2. How has this changed her optimism?
  3. Why does she talk about Samira Ibrahim? What is Samira's background?
  4. What happened to Samira?
  5. How did she react?
  6. What inspired her?
  7. What were the results of her accusations?
  8. What is the situation like for women in Egypt?
  9. Why did Samira continue to be optimistic?
Suggested Answers
  1. She was arrested had both her arms broken and was sexually abused.
  2. She now believes in optimism with consequence, and her optimism is deeper and stronger.
  3. Samira is an example of the ultimate optimist. She is 26, from a conservative family in Upper Egypt, her father was imprisoned by the Mubarak regime for 19 years.
  4. She was arrested by military, and given a forced virginity test.
  5. She sued the military for virginity testing.
  6. Optimism
  7. The tests were stopped but she lost the court case, continued to protest, and is optimistic.
  8. Egyptian society oppresses women.
  9. Young people would be watching the news reports and learning to stand up to a regime, a culture and a society.


More information about Samira Ibrahim: Samira Ibrahim - www.aljazeera.comSamira Ibrahim -