Dr. Gerry Turcotte


September 28, 2015

"I have heard many such things;
miserable comforters are you all."

Job 16: 2

There is a funny story of identical twins, one always excruciatingly negative, the other indescribably positive. The first is given a horse and complains that he has to feed it; the other a room filled to the ceiling with manure who exclaims happily: 'I know there's a pony in here somewhere!'

Optimists are often criticized for being unforgivably positive even when events would suggest otherwise. We can all think of the person who always says, 'Could be worse,' no matter how catastrophic an event.


A friend of mine once dressed down an irrepressible optimist by pointing out, regarding a disastrous situation, 'No, it couldn't be worse!'

After a meaningful pause that suggested he'd got the message, the optimist replied, 'So it can only get better!' You could hear the pessimist's screams all over town.

The world needs optimists and pessimists - the optimist invented the airplane, the pessimist invented the parachute. But the pessimistic mode can sometimes overtake us.

It's always easier to look at the grim and forget the light, when in fact life is really a product of the interplay of the two.

In painting we have the concept of Chiaroscuro, the balance of shadows and light that the painter Caravaggio specialized in and which rendered the images so vividly.

So it is with our everyday reality. Unless we remember to see the full picture, we inevitably have partial vision, and indeed may focus only on the dark.

Calgary photographer George Webber once spoke about his focus on capturing buildings in decay as an obsession with passing and loss.

He said during his career he'd been more of a pallbearer than a midwife. Quite aside from the brilliance of that line, it occurred to me that, in a different context, many of us might well live our lives in that way - carrying the negative, rather than welcoming in the wonderful - or as Webber did, turning sadness into beauty.


Recently my assistant and I decided to start our day with a moment of levity: something humorous or light, a positive note or an affirmation. Although we are just starting on this new strategy, it has already helped with our day, compelling us to approach the negative from a more constructive and proactive point of view.

When I think of pessimism in the Bible I go immediately to the Book of Job. One of my favourite books, it is a testament to the importance of hope and positivity even when the odds are at their worse.

In the end I would rather be a naïve optimist than a 'miserable comforter.'

Now if I could only find that pony . . .

(Dr. Gerry Turcotte is president, St. Mary's University in Calgary.)