Glass Actually All Empty

Feb 15 , 2020
By Christian Tesfaye

A feeling of doom and gloom casts a long shadow over Ethiopia. People are terrified. They are unnerved by what they see in the country. The threat of violence, disorder and chaos have us appreciating the relative stability we used to experience just a few years back.

Yet, we also find people who are incredibly cheery. Sure, they decry the rising cost of living, the political partisanship and the bad news that comes out almost every other week or month. But they do not seem to be as fazed by it. They claim they see the light at the end of the tunnel, the glass half full, the silver lining hidden in the clouds.

Because they are positive. They would rather focus on the positive than on the negative. This helps radiate positive energy, they claim, which could aid us greatly in our endeavours. If only every Ethiopian was endowed with a positive mindset, it would be possible to move forward as a nation, according to these people.

They also provide us with anecdotes. They know people who have tried it, they have tried it as well and it works. They were able to turn their lives around by merely developing a positive attitude. For them, correlation is causation. There was a time when they believe they started to become more optimistic and, in that period, their professional and social lives began to improve. Success, to them, must have been caused by their decision to look at the world through rainbow-coloured lenses.

If we showed these people the diagram of ice cream sales increasing in the summer season when there is also a rise in shark attacks, they would swear that ice cream draws sharks to humans.

It is rare to find people down the socioeconomic ladder who see life in the same way. These are people who are accused of being too pessimistic and negative about life.

How can the kids on the streets see life positively? Would we believe our own words when we tell them that if they dusted themselves up every time life threw them a curveball and worked hard, they could pick themselves up?

It is for this reason that the theory of meritocracy falls flat on its face. In a world where the few have had too much of a head start in the form of the wealth and institutional advantages they have inherited, people cannot be asked to compete on the same playing field.

It should not come as a surprise that it is these same people, who have had a running start, that want us to be positive. From their perspective, one has a choice whether or not to see the glass half full. They do not realise that from the perspective of the rest of us, the glass is actually all empty.

“I believe we ought to do all we can and seek to lift ourselves by our own bootstraps,” said Martin Luther King, the great civil rights activist said, “but it’s a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

It is a powerful indictment against the argument that all a person needs to succeed is ambition, courage, commitment, integrity and optimism. Such a view is an insult to all those who were robbed of the education, networking and minimum starting capital for self-investment, and as a result failed to catch up.

Our personal, social and economic achievements are the sources of our success. To assume that it is the other way around is to endorse the regressive view that assigns blame to victims of history and institutions.

PUBLISHED ON Feb 15,2020 [ VOL 20 , NO 1033]

Christian Tesfaye ( is a researcher and Fortune's Deputy Editor-in-Chief whose interests run amok in the directions of political thought, markets, society and pop culture.

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