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May 30, 2019

The Mindset Shift that helps me Find Hope in the Most Hopeless Headlines.

 

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Today, I heard on NPR that Houthi rebels had launched a drone attack on a Saudi airport in Najran.

When I hear “drone attack” I can’t help but link it with the continued de-personalization and gamification of killing, not to mention the proliferation of drones everywhere. I’m unsettled by the idea that I don’t know if a drone might be carrying aid, an Amazon package, or a bomb.

Is that just me?

I believe in living a life guided by hope rather than fear. At the same time, I also try to stay engaged in the world so I can be a participating member of the global conversation. It can be a challenging line to walk.

What’s a determined optimist to do?

I’ve found that it’s not a matter of hiding my head in the sand and ignoring reality. Not only is that naive and unhelpful to myself or those around me, but it reduces my resiliency and when I do get bad news, I am not as prepared to deal with it. Instead, I try to face reality while actively seeking out the good in any story.

Sometimes it can seem nearly impossible, but over time, the more I’ve practiced it, the more I’ve found that it comes naturally. Just like my hamstrings or my abs, optimism is a muscle I can either build up or let wither. I prefer to flex that power of positivity.

When I heard that Notre Dame, that beautiful, iconic cathedral in the heart of Paris, was engulfed by flames, it broke my heart. It’s not just a symbol of Paris. It’s a symbol of the enduring beauty that humans can create when we set our minds to it. It took hundreds of craftspeople over 180 years to build, and it’s been the shelter and center of faith for millions in the more than 850 years since.

But watching the flames on TV was a powerful moment for me—a reminder for me to slow down and notice what is good in my life. It evoked the bittersweet mantra, “This too shall pass” that helps me be strong enough to make it through tough times, and also encourages me to cherish the wonderful times. I need to make time to cuddle my cat, or to call my hubby in the middle of the day just to tell him I love him. I need to pull over while driving just to stare in wonder at the beauty of a cherry tree in bloom. I need to use that vacation time and buy those plane tickets to see the things on my bucket list. Because everything is precious, and nothing is permanent.

Facing the potential loss of Notre Dame hurt, but it helped anchor me to the moment—to stop rushing around, to breathe. In that, it was a gift.

When I listened to the (frankly horrifying) Kavanaugh-Ford hearings during the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh, I had a nearly impossible time finding good in the situation. Mr. Kavanaugh responded angrily and emotionally—not what I would hope to see from someone about to become a lifetime member of our highest court. How in the world did I turn that around for myself?

I decided to imagine how I would have liked to see Mr. Kavanaugh respond. What kind of response might he have offered that would have built him up in my eyes, and made me confident in him as my judge, instead of making me feel anxious and upset? Put another way, how would I hope to respond if I were ever in a similar situation?

So I flipped the script and imagined him responding with dignity and humility, kindness and compassion. I imagined him saying something along the lines of: “Like many young people I did drink and party, sometimes to excess, and if I ever crossed a line I would only want to apologize. I would never wish you any harm.” That exercise helped me both lower my blood pressure and build up my own courage muscles for the moments when I will be called on to display my own dignity, humility, kindness, and compassion.

By doing this, I was able to find a moment of gratitude for the learning experience provided by Mr. Kavanaugh. Sure, I’d have rather learned from his good example, but if it has to be a cautionary tale instead, so be it. It’s still a silver lining, and I’ll take it.

Finally, when I heard the news report that Houthi rebels had launched that drone attack, I also learned that while they were using Iranian engineering and technology, interestingly, they had not purchased the weapons from Iran. The newscaster explained that Iranians prefer to teach a man to fish, rather than to give a man a fish—meaning that instead of selling the drone technology they’d been developing for years, they choose to teach their partners to build the low-cost technology for themselves. This was my silver lining. Not that folks bent on killing their enemies were proliferating cheap ways of doing so (ugh) but the reminder that there is another way of operating in the world.

These days, everything is a “brand” and everything has to be “monetized” to be of value. Very little is created just for pleasure, and in our capitalist society, everything is for sale.

When I heard this story I thought, “What if we all took a page from that book?” What if we gave our allies free access to life-saving medications? What if we shared energy-reducing technology without need for payment? What if we functioned like a family, seeking for those around us to thrive, instead of depending on us or paying us? What kind of world could we create? This is a hard question for me to ask myself, since I am an entrepreneur and am always playing the “how do I value my services” game. When do I get to just be generous? Do I have the courage to be truly generous? Is generosity naive?

Is all this silver-lining stuff just Pollyanna-thinking? Sure. But if it changes my behavior even just a little bit, encouraging me to be just a tad more generous, a bit less fearful, and slightly more hopeful, then my world is a better place. I can’t change all the bad in the world, but I can learn from the bad and look for (and try to add to) the good.

I can choose to see light in the darkness, and use it to brighten the world.

Next time you listen to the news, why not give yourself the opportunity to see the power or glimmer of hope behind the headline? What do you have to lose?

~

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author: Rebecca West

Image: @ecofolks/Instagram

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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