How To Be Hopeful In A Negative World

One of the worse traits you can have these days – aside from being a liberal – is optimism in a negative world. You are branded as someone who is out of touch with reality. In a climate of conversation that requires you to engage in the litany of examples of how bad things are, if you counter with a “yes, but,” expecting a mature debate, you’re tuned out or dismissed as a deluded child. 

While on an outing recently with my grandkids, I was reminded of just how far the pendulum has swung.  I shared some factual information – the location of a new play area – and one of them asked how I found out about it and I said the newspaper. From the backseat my analytical grandson piped up, “You can’t trust newspapers. They don’t tell the truth. And you can’t trust technology.” Of course I made the correction (our job is to pay attention, do the homework, assess the sources, the free press, etc.). In the quiet I could hear the inner wheels turn. But the fact that all of this was necessary in an exchange with a SIX-year-old already on the road to jadedness was enlightening since we say our innocent children are the hope for the future.

I have been called a pragmatic optimist. Those are people who pay attention, see what’s happening, and have a pretty good grasp on the range of problems. They also have experienced enough history, societal and personal, to know that things – and people – do change, but as long as we are alive, challenges will always remain.

Positivism is the popularized description. Psychological research does seem to suggest that we who practice it are going against the grain. The brain, it seems, is like Velcro when it comes to negativity and Teflon when it comes to positivity. Numbers like these confirm this assessment:

5-10: That’s the number of positive events it takes to counter-balance one negative event.

12: That’s the number of seconds for good news to travel from temporary memory to long term memory. 

3/4: That’s the amount of our vocabulary that negatively describes people.

2/3: That’s the percentage of English words that convey negatives.

And here’s the kicker: We know that negative people can be like a virus, infecting positive people. But did you know that positivism is actually bad for some people? Their psyches can’t handle it; it makes them sick to try and think in a different way .So, what are we positive folks to do?

I take heart from a conversation with my doctor the other day encouraging me to keep on doing what I’m doing. She has a practice filled with aging agitated Baby Boomers who are worrying themselves into a state of disease over things they cannot control. And, based on the wealth of memoirs and personal stories of people faced with an illness or survival situation, no one ever cites a negative view of the world as the path to healing and growth. Instead, they go within, find resources to help them start enjoying the smallest things in life and they do the best they can as individuals to make a contribution to the world in a positive way.

Meanwhile, those of us who are already there have no problems recognizing each other. In a gathering where the debilitating wave of anguish and futility begins to rumble around the room, we’re the ones who drift away. Huddling together in a corner, we gain strength from each other nodding our heads and laughing about life like kids.  


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