Cautiously moving forward

A new year for many means new goals. New goals means a new direction and new habits (never mind that a majority of Americans have failed in their new year’s resolutions by now). People generally like to keep their chin up, even in angst.

In recent interviews and the stories I have written for the newspaper (particularly for the forthcoming Progress Chenango), I’ve heard the words “cautiously optimistic” thrown at me more times than ever before.

The phrase has echoed from business owners, elected officials, volunteers, non-profit directors, and taxpayers repeatedly. Government and school administrators are seeing improvements in the economy, but they’re cautiously optimistic about receiving additional funding down the line. Several business owners maintain the largest profit margins in nearly five years, but are cautiously optimistic about how their business will fare in the next year. And non-profit agencies have seen growth in charitable contributions but are cautiously optimistic about what to expect down the road.

In theory, “cautiously optimistic” is a way of saying things are looking up, but let’s not get excited. Perhaps a more appropriate phrasing is “being realistic.” Akin to being realistic, being cautiously optimistic takes into account the bad and the good. True, nobody – especially leaders in business, government, schools and non-profits – wants to be known as a worrier. Not to mention, being realistic is closely associated with pessimism, which itself is a label nobody wants.

Some argue that being cautiously optimistic is the smartest way to move forward because it doesn’t lead to disappointment when things don’t go their way; all anyone can do is hope for the best. After all, a farmer that plants seeds can’t expect all of them to grow, right?

There’s a wide range of philosophy when it comes to cautious optimism. But no matter how you spin it, it seems to be the prominent way of thinking in Chenango. As we head further into a new year of unknowns, everyone wants to hope for the best when reality is, there’s a lot that can hold us back.

The question remains, is being cautiously optimistic the best sentiment to move Chenango County forward? I don’t think so. True, cautious optimism keeps anyone from counting their eggs before they hatch, so to speak, but I can’t think of a success story that has come from being “cautiously optimistic.” Success is built purely on positive thinking. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, for example, built a winning football program on the motto “Play like a champion today,” which hangs above the teams entryway onto the playing field (note how much better it is than the alternative “Try to play like a champion today”). And President Barack Obama – hate him or love him – won the 2008 election with the campaign slogan “Yes we can” even when cautious optimism would have been “Yes we can, but ...”

Admittedly, cautious optimism is perhaps the smartest approach looking into a new year, especially given the economic pitfalls of the past few years. But to move Chenango County forward, I don’t think it’s best. To make real progress, there needs to be a more positive way of thinking – in business, in local government, in non-profits, and among people in general.

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