Pessimism of intelligence, optimism of will

The motto of Romain Rolland, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915, is more relevant than ever: the contemporary dramas that are occurring must shake us up. At the same time, we should not let the evils of the world blur our lives. On the contrary, I sometimes get the impression that even the contribution of a simple smile is enough to light a little match in a black hole.

When people ask me: “How are you?”. I answer: “I´m happy. I´m happy with my life. And today I have a good day ahead of me”. My answers surprise people. I suppose they may be thinking: “Mr. Costa has a terrible illness and will soon pass away; perhaps he is trusting in heaven and angels, enjoying his life before his imminent passing”. No. This is not the case! And so, I confirm: “I am happy and healthy”. They answer: “You are very lucky”; “I live in Milan, a chaotic, smog-filled city”, or “I´m a lawyer, an awful line of work”. Allow me to shed some light. I will not leave this life tomorrow because of my little body pains; I simply said I believe I have a good day ahead of me, not that it will be my last – God willing, of course! 

Yes, I must admit: I am a privileged man, born in the richest part of the world –not in a ghetto, a banlieue or a slum-. My businesses are thriving and I love my work. I live in beautiful places between Tuscany -Val d’Orcia- and the Dolomites. It doesn’t matter if I have little body pains or if I can no longer participate in motocross races or jump from four thousand metres with a parachute. I’m working with beautiful people in the hospitality world and I am happy with my life. Why shouldn’t I say it?

There are grey areas, of course, but I can honestly say that I always try to shine some light even in the darkest places. I have long since avoided people who try to take me into the flames of Hades: people who talk without listening, or who, even worse, talk just to get their tongues and jaws moving; people who are angry with God or with the world and who, only repeating what they already know, never learn from the thoughts of others. These people do not interest me. So, after a while, I kindly say goodbye and take my leave. I am no longer a dumpster for other people's rubbish.

No, I do not allow myself to be overwhelmed by cosmic pessimism, but neither am I one of those mindless optimists who, full of ego, live only for themselves. I am not one of those people who cultivate their own little garden, disregarding everything and everyone else. I know that mindless optimism doesn’t allow you to perceive dangers and keeps you in your comfort zone. With the right amount of attention, we are able to see threats in advance and know how to navigate obstacles cautiously. As Ralf W. Emerson said: “Always do what you are afraid to do”.

I am shaken by what is currentlyhappening in our world; nevertheless, I don’t let the shadows of the world enter me because I know that, sometimes, one smile can light up a black hole.

I am very lucky and I suppose that my life is the result of my choices. I love walking through Tuscan hills and putting seal skins under my skis; in those moments I leave business troubles in my office and I never talk about work at home. A positive mindset improves our resilience and allows us to appreciate the small and continuous daily joys. I always greet the sun in the morning and in the evening, I enjoy my daily cigar and I am happy with the warmth of my love before falling asleep. Are these conscious choices?

In every one of us there is a negative cell more powerful that the positive one: for example, when we read a newspaper, watch TV, and scroll through social media, we pay more attention to bad news, catastrophes, emergencies, than to all the beautiful things that surround us. Scientists say that this attitude is connected to our primitive brain: in the past, our amygdala, part of our brain, was responsible for the reaction of running away in front of a dangerous animal.

Today there aren’t any mammoths and the most dangerous creatures walk on two legs. The constant flow of negative news puts us in a never-ending crisis mode and makes us unnecessarily stressed. We are, at least hypothetically, terrestrial beings intelligent enough to be able to distinguish good sources from bad ones. So why follow who promote ugliness or cruelty? Are we aware that beauty may not save us, but ugliness contaminates us to a great extent?

Human beings get depressed when confronted with perception that they cannot change anything. At that moment a pessimistic, frustrating feeling comes over us and leads us to be helpless. Dictatorships strip us of our autonomy. Democracy does not, but a president who nonetheless oppresses certain communities by doing whatever he wants is just as depressing. Have the boats sinking in the Mediterranean not stopped catching our attention? How sad and how tiny this makes us feel! Better to stick to the smaller things and just complain about the neighbour.

This recalls the feeling I have towards the climate crisis. We feel weak and small in front of the colossal changes caused by us. Substituting a car running on petrol with an electric one seems like it will not change anything, just another market affair, so we are simply not interested.

I think that there are two themes. The first one: climate change doesn’t affect our lives enough – not enough deaths – and the ongoing catastrophes don’t concern us at first glance – too far away. The second one: we perceive the changes as very far from us in time; for example: the seas will rise by sixty meters, but this will only happen in the next eight hundred and fifty years, right? These are time horizons that seem eternal to us, and therefore who cares? In my opinion, this attitude is very harmful: we are lying to ourselves because we do not want to face reality. Instead of acting as responsible men and women, we prefer to victimize ourselves. Meanwhile, nature show us the true reality: it is no longer snowing and periods of drought are getting longer and longer.

If we don’t care for a distant future, should we also not care for a distant past? But we do, we know the history of sovereigns and empires and wars, the history of Frederick II, for example, and that happened just eight hundred years ago. So, what is to be done?

At the end of the day, being pessimists is easy and comfortable. In truth, I realised that being a pessimist doesn’t make me feel good and, most importantly, it doesn’t create anything and doesn’t help anyone. And because I love myself and I love my neighbour, I try to commit myself to a better world with a healthy dose of optimism in my pockets.

Therefore, I will now go on foot to the Col Alto. I thank you for devoting the most precious thing in the world, your time, to reading my letter. Giulan. I am a lucky man. All of us, in this part of the world are very and truly lucky women and men. Let us never forget it.

Michil Costa