The Best of All Possible Worlds – Lessons from Candide

The Best of All Possible Worlds - Lessons from Candide

When I lived in Northern Ireland, my roommate and I were so similar we could’ve been twins. We loved the same shows, listened to the same music (for the most part), and laughed at the same silly jokes. Just one thing was vastly different between us – the ongoing debate on whether the glass was half full or half empty.

As I declared elsewhere, I’m an eternal optimist. I’m a Pollyana. I admit it! I prefer looking at the world in a half-full light.

My friend on the other hand had a decidedly more Chicken Little view of the world. Not to say that she was super melodramatic, it’s just that she erred on the side of a realistic, dare I say skeptical, perspective in life.

Now, I’m not declaring one better than the other. I’m just laying out the facts here. I believe both viewpoints are useful and necessary at different times.

And either one, when unbalanced can lead to disastrous consequences.

One of the many interesting books that I had to read in high school embodies this concept perfectly – Candide, by Voltaire. Written back in 1759, this is the satirical tale of an overly optimistic young man, Candide, who suffers outrageous misadventures and misfortunes, all the while proclaiming that everything is for the best and he lives in the “best of all possible worlds”.

Though it’s only a little over a hundred pages, this isn’t an easy book to read. Partly due to the 18th century language and partly due to the absolutely ridiculous and terrifying catastrophes Candide and friends endure. However, I do recommend you read it at some point, if only for the hilarity in which Voltaire mocks the ever-persistent optimism of the hero and his mentor, Dr. Pangloss.

But more importantly, what I remember most vividly from this tale of blind positivity is the final scene. After finally settling down again with his true love, his mentor, and other comrades, Candide is walking back to his home with Dr. Pangloss and they begin discussing all the disasters they experienced the last several years. Dr. Pangloss keeps insisting it was all for the best of all possible worlds and everything was meant to happen in just the way it did.

woman on bench looking awayFinally, Candide has enough of this philosophizing and says simply, “we must cultivate our garden.”

To me, this line represents that moment when all the thinking and optimistic rationalizing is no longer useful and needs to be put aside for the very real and necessary act of cultivating the garden. As I mentioned before, I sometimes have a hard time stopping my overactive mind. So whenever I get in that state of wondering and “what-if-ing” myself to death, I stop, remind myself about the practical tasks at hand and get to work.

I feel like the issue of overwhelming positivism comes up often in the world of new age spirituality. Sometimes the belief that everything happens for a reason can lead to stress, trying to figure out what that reason is and how it fits into the bigger picture. There’s so much pressure to keep your “vibrations high” and always thinking positively – because any negative thoughts will just increase themselves – that it naturally leads to negative consequences, since you’re not being true to yourself.

I believe in the Law of Attraction and that everything does happen for a reason, but sometimes things simply SUCK in the moment. By admitting that things are tough in the present, it frees you to release that negativity in order to let in the positive beliefs which you DO want to manifest. Yes, what you think you create, but if you ignore how to really feel and try to “fake it until you make it” the universe won’t be fooled. Balance is necessary in all things in life. That means good times and bad times.

Happy moments and dreadful moments. Denying one side is an injustice to both.

Go ahead and wallow for a few minutes. Get upset at the shitty situation. Cry out all your sorrow. And then get up, give yourself a huge heart-felt hug and go and cultivate your garden!

Your turn – what phrase or memory helps you to remain balanced? Let me know in the comments below!

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