I once had this exchange with a friend:

Me: Yes, but why do you think you’ll be able to beat the stock market?

Him: Because I really need the money.

Call it D.I.S.S.: demand-is-supply syndrome. Because I want it, it must exist.

Yearning, will, and motivation are considered keys to success, but a key is nothing without a lock to open. Often in the promotion of the key–where there’s a will, there’s a way–the lock is ignored.

Mind Readers Dictionary: The Podfast : Play in Popup

Mind Readers Dictionary : Play in Popup

D.I.S.S. is a kind of hope or optimism: Where there’s a will there’s a way, because the will itself IS the way. We’re ambivalent about optimism. Yes, it’s good to have a positive, receptive attitude–but we find it a little creepy when someone declares optimism with that empty, goofy look.

In recent articles I’ve drawn the distinction between hope as an answer and hope as a question. I’d draw a parallel distinction between active and passive optimism.

A resolutely hopeful person, one who suggests that hope is the answer, is a passive optimist. “I’m waiting for better things to appear.” The inquisitively hopeful person is an active optimist. “I’m exerting myself, working on making things better.”

We can distinguish the passive and active perfectionist too. The passive perfectionist is waiting for the perfect solution to appear. The active perfectionist is trying to make it appear. Seneca reminds us that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Preparation is the active perfectionist’s focus.

Conversely, a passive pessimist is someone who thinks things are going badly and there’s nothing to do about it. An active pessimist is someone who thinks things are going badly and is therefore racing to find a way to improve them.

And what’s the opposite of a perfectionist? An imperfectionist? A tolerist (someone who tolerates imperfection)? These also come in passive and active varieties. A passive tolerist sees things aren’t as good as they could be and leaves it at that. An active tolerist tolerates imperfection on the way to improvement.

The distinction relates to what psychologists call internal versus external locus of control. Passivity is an assumption that the locus of control is external–winning at this particular game is a matter of luck, something external. Activism is an assumption that the locus of control is internal–winning at this particular game is a matter of skill, something to be developed internally and exerted to achieve ends.

Locus of control has been one of the central debating points in religion. Religions can be thought of as partnerships between believers and their God–marriages, even, and they are in part defined by the question of who makes the first move in the courtship. Do you have to exert yourself and if so how much? Does God come on to you first or do you have to reach out to God to get things going? Prayer then can be a way of hoping God or good things will come my way; or it can be a preparation for exerting myself to make the difference I want to see. Active and passive prayer. Is prayer a substitute for exertion (I pray so good things will come to me) or a complement to it (I pray so as to motivate myself to go work for good things)? It’s a distinction worth making.