No question that, for me, it’s the first of these. Slightly more cynical these day (you’d be a bit daft at my age not to be) but still, essentially, an optimist. Not that I haven’t had my down moments, it’s just that I try not to let them get in the way of seeing others on this planet as, basically decent, honest people just trying to get by in life and do their best for their families. In fact, the only time in my whole life that I remember not being of this optimistic frame of mind was when I was in the army marking up the War Room map during the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s probably the only time in HM Forces that I felt that I was doing anything useful. It was also very frightening and not a time for unfounded optimism. With nuclear war a distinct possibility, it could hardly be so.
My starting point in all this is a Christian one; something that may seem odd for an atheist. It’s that saying that you should treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. Indeed, why should it be otherwise? This, however, is not merely academic but is based on the evidence that I see all around me, in those I have any dealings with. They confirm my view of others and of how we should act towards one another.
In this, I also try and, I repeat, try, to take a benevolent view of the opinions of others; something I fail miserably at. You see, I can’t understand why others can actually take a different view. So, in this, you could say that I’m intolerant and I might agree with you in this one area. I am, in fact, utterly intolerant of intolerance. Then I remember that these people might see their particular glass as half empty. Furthermore that might also feel that there is little that they can do to change those circumstances other than to make it emptier still. At which point, I try to take that into account. Something I don’t do as well as I would like.
Yet, in all this, I am heartened by an after dinner conversation I had with a friend of my wife’s parents many years ago. This friend was a lay preacher and his other guest a former prison chaplain. Among the things we talked about was evil and the chaplain said that, in his entire career in the service, he had only ever met one person he regarded as beyond redemption. Cause for my “half full glass” attitude to be confirmed.