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How Critical Is Optimism?

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

~ Helen Keller

Helen Keller (1880-1968) was an American author, political activist and public speaker. She was the first person, both deaf and blind, to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree. The play and film, The Miracle Worker, recount the now-famous story of how Keller’s teacher, Anne Sullivan, broke through her disabilities and taught her to communicate with the world. As a member of the Socialist Party of America, she campaigned for women’s suffrage and other social causes.

Helen Keller, no doubt, is one of the most inspirational people in history. Her accomplishments are testament, not only to her work ethic and perseverance, but also to her intelligence, wisdom and raw courage. I don’t know how a person can cope with this double disability, maintain a positive outlook on life and accomplish the things that she did. My wife, Anne, has been hearing impaired since birth, and she has often said to me that she doesn’t know what she’d do if she ever lost her sight. None of us depend on our eyesight as much as a hearing impaired person, who depends on their sight for all communication be it lip-reading, signing, or reading e-mail and text messaging thanks to modern technology. I am familiar with the challenges and frustrations that my wife lives with, so Helen Keller boggles my mind!

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.” In this sentence alone, I think that Keller is revealing to us the key to living successfully. Notice that she’s not soft-pedalling her message. It is a bold statement that brooks no compromise. Whether you consider yourself religious or not, faith is the foundation of all great deeds – big and small. If I don’t believe I can do something, then I won’t be able to. I’m not talking about the doubt that we all wrestle with from time to time, I mean a belief that I cannot do something. A certainty.

For centuries, it was believed that man cannot fly. No debate – it was an article of faith. The Wright brothers believed something else. Their faith got them past the  skepticism of others and early failures. They knew they could fly! And so, they did. Because of their faith, humankind flies around this planet daily for business, pleasure, warfare, and exploration of space.

Keller isn’t just telling us to have faith. No, she’s making us aware that optimism is the faith that will allow us to achieve our goals. This makes so much sense, but I’ve never before seen or heard this idea expressed in this way. There is nothing you can build from pessimism but failure. If my heart is not uplifted, my mind will not be moved to meet challenges head on – no matter how painful or difficult. Optimism is an idea or a doctrine, but it fires the heart. The heart is the seat of desire and moves the mind to action and sustains the resolve of the mind. I believe this is true from my own life experience. 

Helen Keller urges us to proceed with hope and confidence. When our heart is moved, uplifted by the rational act of faith – that our mind has decided our goal is reachable and we will do it – that uplifted state of our heart gives birth to hope. Hope is the feeling that we expect a positive outcome and that feeds the desire to persevere through any obstacle to succeed. As hope grows within us, so does confidence. Our mind is reassured that the faith is justified by the surge of hope and that gives birth to confidence. We now have the heart and the mind powering our journey to the goal. It won’t be easy. There will be setbacks, roadblocks and failures along the way. But the combined power of faith, hope, and confidence will see us through. Our mind will have the confidence to make the necessary decisions throughout the journey.

If this process that Helen Keller espouses is not valid, how do we explain the miracle of flight? The miracle of space exploration? The miracle of synthetic insulin… and the list could go on and on.

I believe that achievements are great whether they are front page news or known to just myself and my own circle of friends and family. An accomplishment is great because it took faith, hope, confidence and a healthy portion of courage to stay the course. It is much easier to take the low road of pessimism and unbelief. That takes no effort, no heart, and certainly no courage. But the consequences of the low road are predictable and horrific to contemplate. I know that I would go to my grave unhappy and filled with self-loathing. If a person with a double disability can live a very successful life and inspire countless people, what possible excuse do I have to merely exist and then pass on? I don’t. Thank you, Helen Keller.


Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

8 thoughts on “How Critical Is Optimism?”

  1. What an extraordinary woman Helen was! For me optimism equates to hope and is why, as a person with chronic depression, I can still call myself an optimist most days. It get me up in the morning, even if it’s a very dark day (in all senses). Confidence is something else again but it’s something that can be habit-forming and will give you a small adrenalin buzz if you work hard at it and practice every day – even if other people call it sheer bloody-mindedness!
    Thanks for sharing this John 😀


  2. Helen Keller’s story has fascinated me too. She is a phenomenal woman. Every half century or so it seems, a phenomenal person is born to change our world. And every so often a horrible individual is born right along side them but the positive always wins out and make a bigger difference in our outcome in world. What an inspiration to wake up to.


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