Someone being described as a “glass half-full” or “glass half-empty” sort of person is something that one hears increasingly frequently. I was recently discussing this with a friend and we both agreed that the analogy was unhelpful. First it supports a drastically simplistic and binary view of people having fixed attitudes and behaviours in all circumstances. Day-to-day observation suggests on the contrary that a person my be an avid optimist one day about one thing and a manic pessimist the next day about another thing. This rather shallow type of characterisation rather reminds me of some of the subjects I touched on in The Big Picture and Pigeonholing – A tragedy some time ago.
However, there is a more fundamental consideration; wilful inaccuracy. A glass that is half empty is also half full; that’s the definition of a half. Either description is 100% valid and therefore logically can tell you nothing about the person’s mindset.
Instead what might be more apposite is to adopt a different way to divide sheep from goats. This is still rather too binary for my taste, but at least it has the merit of a greater degree of rigour. I propose dividing people according to how they view a glass that is three quarters empty:
- I still have some left: optimist
- There isn’t very much left: pessimist
I think that all of our lives would be much the better for adopting this simple principle.
Accordingly, I am going to submit this recommendation to the International Standards Organisation for their urgent consideration. I’ll make sure that I keep readers up-to-date with how my submission progresses.
4 thoughts on “Half full, or half empty?”
Peter, great dissection of the famed analogy. Some days it simply depends on what side of the bed that you wake up on, doesn’t it? Much less the curve balls that life can throw you. Hurray for less binary thinking!
Thanks for the comment. I feel the same way about the various personality tests, that only ever seem to capture certain aspects of me as an individual. But then I guess not everyone has multiple-personality disorder :-).
Just noticed an article on your blog entitled What is a Mandelbrot Set? – the mathematician in me is intrigued – will take a look tomorrow.
Some interesting insights relative to this article on LinkedIn.com here.
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