Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno defined quixotic pessimism as the refusal to let the odds of success determine the value of the fight, according to Mariana Alessandri’s opinion piece that ran on Memorial Day in the New York Times. This is a truth we should consider anew as the injustices and dangers of the Trump administration continues to add up. As Alessandri points out, the worthiest causes of all are often the lost ones.
The word “quixotic,” you might recall, is derived from the Miguel de Cervantes romantic hero, Don Quixote de la Mancha. Don Quixote had a fondness for tilting at windmills, believing them to be giants ravishing the countryside. His loyal squire, Sancho Panza, was constantly trying to talk the noble knight out of his obsession. But it was Panza, not Quixote, who was the lost one. Panza had no interest in trying—his defeat in life was absolute.
Instead, we must use our quixotic pessimism as a shield and charge onward against those windmill-sized dangers. Alessandri writes, “Cultivating moral courage amounts to learning to shift our attention away from those who confuse criticism for action toward our own judgment of what is worthwhile, based on thinking a whole lot about what kind of world we would like to live in and the kinds of people we’d like to be. It is worth noting that Quixote went mad from reading books, and this is precisely the type of crazy that Unamuno supports. We may not be able to improve the world, but we can at least refuse to cooperate with a corrupt one.”
I would charge all revolutionists and resisters to embrace quixotic pessimism. As Mohandes K. Ghandi said, “…it is possible for a single individual to defy the whole might of an unjust empire to save his honor, his religion, his soul and lay the foundation for the empire’s fall or its regeneration.” We just have to keep attacking those windmills.
Andrew Faas is the author of From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire
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