The Wisdom of Optimism

It is a good practice, menacing worst case scenario looming, to delay worrying until you know there is something concrete to worry about, a fateful choice is in front of you and you must do something. Speculative worry is draining and unhealthy. The trick, of course, is how to remain optimistic in the face of news that is legitimately scary.

During my miserable, subsistence lawyering years, I frequently stood in the broken, smelly shoes of some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, trying to stop their evictions into homelessness. Back then the threat of merely losing your home did not trigger any kind of automatic legal representation (on the theory that “jeopardy” for constitutional right of counsel purposes only attaches if you face a year or more in prison) so Housing Court judges began appointing lawyers as Guardians ad Litem (protectors for the litigation.) I served in this largely thankless capacity many times over the years.

Understandably, many impoverished tenants facing eviction, and the terrors of life on the cruel streets, particularly those tenants the judge found “inadequately able to represent themselves in court,” were terrified every time they had to come to court. My job was to delay the Housing Court proceeding until I could get an agency to fix the problem that the landlord was citing to evict the tenant. I was often in court five or ten times for a single case before it could be resolved. The landlord’s attorneys knew the drill, and most of them worked with me without complaint. The tenants were often, for obvious reasons, in terror the whole time. A big part of my job was reassuring them and trying to convince them not to be terrified.

“I know it’s scary to be in court, and, of course, the idea of being evicted is very scary. You should know that I’ve done hundreds of these cases, at least fifty of them exactly like yours, and I mean exactly like yours. In the end, you won’t get evicted, I can assure you of that right now. It may take months, and many trips to court, which I will make, but this case will be over and you’ll stay in your home. Try not to worry. I know it’s hard not to, but please try not to worry, unless you hear from me there is something to worry about — and the chance of that is approximately zero.” And then I would smile and answer all of their questions.

How nice it must have been for the ones who believed me and were able to relax a bit.

“Here is an expert in stopping evictions, someone I don’t even have to pay, who has done this hundreds of times, fifty times exactly like my case, promising me he’s got everything under control. He seems calm and confident talking to that animal my landlord hired to evict me, the judge seems to listen to everything he says, maybe he’s right. Maybe I shouldn’t worry until he tells me it’s time to worry.”

In the absence of this kind of Jesus Christ wannabe expert in your corner, you have to do it for yourself. Got news that is terrifying, something you can’t verify until you see the expert who can verify it? Your imagination can take you to good outcomes as well as bad. Here’s a theory for your alarming 300% jump in PSA — the lab could have made a mistake. It happens all the time. Go see your urologist as soon as you can, but the lab could be wrong too, have the blood test done again.

A much better thought than “fuck me, I’m a dead man walking,” at least until you find out you are.

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