For those of us who resist optimism because it seems irresponsible…
Responsible optimists do not look at a world full of pain and pretend it isn’t there, they see the trouble without letting it control them.
A few tips that make this possible:
- Expect the best…but always be prepared for the worst.
- Face everything with the belief that you will have the resources to deal with it.
- Refuse to waste your time pouring blame and shame on others for bad stuff that happens. We all screw up. It’s part of the deal.
- Remember heroes who have overcome.
- Recall times when good came out of “bad.”
- Determine to make the best of whatever happens.
- Say (like a warrior), “I was born for this! Bring it on!”
Look disappointment in the eye…and plow on through.
That’s what Ben Ferencz has been doing since successfully prosecuting twenty-two Nazi SS officers for atrocities in 1947; fighting relentlessly against genocide and oppression all over the world. When asked by CBS if it discouraged him that the world was still full of injustice, he said, “No. It takes courage not to get discouraged,” then reminded Lesley Stahl of the progress that had been made.
It takes courage not to get discouraged is a bit redundant, yet, because I am a person who throws in the towel too easily, it has become my new motto. Thank you, Ben, for your inspiration.
If I asked you, “What has been the most challenging book you have read lately?” or, “Who have you learned from this week?” or, “What area of your personal life have you improved recently?” would you have a ready answer? Would you have to scramble for a response, or would you have so much to talk about that it would be difficult to know where to start?
Incremental improvement of our lives doesn’t happen automatically. Without intentional focus, we settle into whatever version of ourselves is easiest. The people we admire have refused to do that.
“If only I may grow: firmer, simpler, quieter, warmer.” – Dag Hammarskjold
(Swedish Diplomat and Noble Peace Prize Recipient)
While eating at an outdoor café recently, a large, intimidating man staggered down the sidewalk, picking fights with random customers. People were cowering and clearing away from him until the owner appeared out of nowhere. He was smaller and much older than the man who threatened the guests, but his fearless manner, undaunted by the unexpected challenge, and his quick, courageous action sent the intruder on his way.
Afterwards, the atmosphere was charged with the owner’s charisma. All were appreciative, and many enamored. When I praised him, he responded with passion, “When someone threatens my guests, they threaten my family.”
I like to remember people like him when I am tempted to whither in fear, descend into whimpering, or withdraw from action. They remind me what I will lose by settling for mediocre me.
Courageous people are:
- not obsessed with self-preservation
“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” – Mahatma Gandhi
I wonder how many of us have quit in the ignore, laugh, or fight stage, believing these ugly stages were all there would ever be. Today the words of Gandhi give me the strength and courage to keep pressing ahead, using the gifts and passions that I have been given…until the end.
Where would I be if my heroes, Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela, Helen Keller, Paulo Coelho, Thoreau, and a myriad of others had not stayed with it through the ugly stages?
In August 2013, very unlikely hero, Antoinette Tuff stood off an AK47-armed gunman in Georgia and saved a school full of children. She attributes that miracle to years of morning devotionals. Really.
In spite of her own turbulent life (she was crying over a call from her ex and her car was repossessed the morning of the incident), she believed that there is meaning to the madness and that one never knows what life may ask of us. She doesn’t know how she subdued the shooter, says she was just a “vessel” who was asking for the next words throughout the ordeal.
I heard her interviewed on NPR and heard hope for all of us that day.
The biggest “fear triggers” of my personality type are disapproval and rejection. That makes it really hard to be okay with looking ridiculous, even if my objective is completely unselfish and, possibly, critically important for others.
So many of us have a prompting inside to use our gifts in unique ways, to create something new, to strike out, to challenge the current “normal,” but we hold back to save ourselves the embarrassment.
But, if we…
- regularly saturate our mind with “hero stories”
- meditate on our innate self-worth (that is immune from outside evaluation)
- remember the very temporal nature of our existence
…we will avoid shrinking into the shadows of anonymity where the impossible is impossible.
At times in my life when I felt trapped, this quote made me furious.
After taking charge of my thoughts and deciding not to play the victim anymore, I embraced the power of this truth for all political, social, racial, geographical, financial, physical, spiritual, and mental conditions. In books, videos, and on line, I have found role models who have claimed their freedom from the most radical and torturous prisons imaginable.
If you are in prison today, there are crowds of angels, women, and men calling you to freedom. I said yes when Nelson Mandela, Helen Keller, Abraham Lincoln, Maya Angelou, John Bunyan, Stephen Hawking, Etty Hillesum, and countless others left messages for me.
All of my heroes have suffered, been disrespected, rejected, and many of them imprisoned wrongly or killed. So why would I think something had gone terribly wrong when things go dark for me? Why would I ever expect an easy road? How can I fully explore my talents and capabilities if I am shielded from pain and disappointment?
If I want to be safe, small, sheltered, or live vicariously through a sports team or a movie star, I will reject the challenge. But I do not.
Deep in my chest I feel the noble core of a warrior: a warrior who wants to be courageous in spite of myself.
Me, the former chicken!
I choose courage.
I choose strength.
I choose to live.
“In the end there were only two rules for living with fear (he had come to believe conquering fear was a myth)…I must accept things over which I have no control. I must turn my adversities into advantages.”
These are the words Stephen King gave Dale Barbara, the hero in Under the Dome.
These are also the rules that will give us the courage to fight our battles (rather than decide we are too scared, weak, or unable to do so). When we accept what is, we free up the energy we would have wasted on anger, bitterness, jealousy and despair so we can use it to leverage our adversities for ourselves and others.
Whether fictional or real, the people we admire (and the people we can become) don’t let fear call the shots.