Jennifer B. Davis
I read a disturbing headline yesterday that claimed that the ultimate downfall of Kenneth Lay, the former Enron CEO and convicted white-collar criminal, was caused by his optimism. As a "glass is half full" person myself, I was offended. How could optimism be blamed for Mr. Lay's apparent disregard for integrity, for reality, and for the needs of his employees, shareholders, and community? Why mislabel "delusion" as "optimism" or, in the reporter's opinion, is this a matter of semantics?

I couldn't help but make a parallel between two news stories yesterday. One, Ken's fatal heart attack and the sabre-rattling missile launches of North Korea. I should say that I normally don't discuss politics and am not aware of all the subtleties of the issues at hand, but from what I do know North Koreans believe themselves to be the most technologically-advanced country in the world, with the most beloved and respected leaders. Truth is, that they are in the dark. Literally and figuratively. They live in poverty, without modern technologies and are feed government propaganda from morning until night. This aerial night photograph was shown on Good Morning America today and shows the stark contrast between North and South Korea. To believe that North Korea is an advanced country is not optimism, it is delusion.

Although the comparison maybe unfair, I suspect that Ken Lay and North Korea are similar. Both of them were/are detached from reality. Both the people of North Korea and Ken Lay probably were buffered from brutal reality with misinformation, by well-meaning lieutenants who made sure the news was always good, and they were mislead by their own deep-seated desire to believe things were going well. Optimism is the belief that you can improve a situation when confronted with brutal facts and reality, not a disregard for those facts. It is a belief that there is some good that will come from every circumstance, not the creation of a fantasy world.

Let's not blame optimism for Ken Lay's disgraceful behavior. Optimism is innocent. Moreover, it was probably an optimistic attitude that helped Ken's weak and damaged heart keep pumping until after the criminal conviction when the truth finally caught up to him. I don't know what will pull North Korea from their delusions. I'll leave that to the politicians.
1 Response
  1. Alan Says:

    I agree with you about Ken Lay. Some want to point out that he was a good man who was misinformed about how his company was working. Anyone who has worked in the corporate world knows that companies don't become big without the man at the top knowing what is going on. There are plenty of good people who are doing time for crimes they commited.

    North Korea is a "dark" country, but never underestimate them. We made the mistake of underestimating the Vietnamese and we are underestimating Iraqis.

    I am optimistic that the tacos I will be making in a few minutes are going to be great. Especially after putting my favorite hot sauce on them