Vail Daily column: The mantra of relentless optimism
Doesn’t it shock you to remember that there was a time in America literally called the “Era of Good Feelings?” Born after the Vietnam quagmire and Nixon’s demise, I have no memory of a time in this country where pessimism ran so incredibly rampant. Prone to a cynical view myself, a propensity to focus on negatives, I have struggled mightily to keep my spirits up, my motivation activated. With the aid of my friends, those inspiring companions on many adventures, I have made a conscious effort to adjust my outlook. Embracing the mantra of relentless optimism is not just a shift that feels good, it is the only logical response to a world gone mad.
As battles rage over immigration, health care, social justice, foreign policy, as our national discourse becomes ever more inflamed, as heartfelt causes and rational discussions begin to feel hopeless, there is an understanding tendency to retreat, to cover your eyes and ears and run screaming. And, those are just the macro-level monstrosities. The daily stresses of existence compound what is happening on a larger scale. Tax season, rapid snowmelt, injuries, illnesses, rude visitors, other personal annoyances conspire to drive us into a deep funk, to seek solace in escape mental, if not physical. But, to stand on the sidelines is to become something less than human.
Optimism is not dissociative, it is not an abdication of reality, it does not gloss over traumas, it is not just for hippies out on a long, strange trip. Optimism recognizes the current state of affairs and sees the building blocks, the possibilities for a better future. Declaring one a wearer of rose-tinted spectacles is typically pejorative, but I fail to grasp why looking at the world with a more sanguine perspective is wrong. Problematic to me is to discover the rotten in every situation, an impulse that is just too easy. Constantly assuming the worst about people, about events, about everything, creates an infinite feedback loop, a black hole from whence the light of life cannot escape. Demonizing others, imputing them with horrid motives, always choosing the adversarial over the cooperative, that will be our doom.
This country has stood on the brink of annihilation, self-inflicted or otherwise, many times. We took up arms against each other, we have battled dictators, we have fought demagogues and charlatans. Each time, through sheer force of will, in the belief that all could be better, we have emerged bruised, but not broken. In those times, we did not merely sit back and hope for the best, we made the best happen.
Optimism is not passive. Indeed, the more bleak the situation, the more engaged the optimist must be. Ordinary optimism may help smooth out minor bumps, but a more pervasive tenacity of positivity is required to push through truly rough terrain. Dogged in pursuit of a brighter tomorrow, in recharacterizing trash as treasure, the relentless optimist brings energy and intention to her worldview, spreads good cheer to those who appear despondent.
Historical figures religious and secular are our guides in this endeavor. Buddha believed that all life was suffering, that there was merit and education in pain. Yet, in a world of vipers and vixens, he was not merely content, he was joyous. Martin Luther King, Jr. faced dogs and fire hoses and FBI informants and doubters within his community and without. In the face of these obstacles, he conjured a dream so powerful that the forces of darkness had to extinguish him, if not his legacy. But it is not only the famous who can inspire the burgeoning optimist. Our Valley is laden with community and nonprofit leaders and volunteers who toil relentlessly to remedy the social, environmental, and political ills that plague us. Daily, they stare down poverty and pollution, knowing in their core that “no” is not an acceptable answer, that the only real possibility is “yes.”
Optimism is not perfect, but it sees something approaching perfection in the fact of imperfection. It will not shield one from the broadswords and battleaxes of life, it will not resurrect the dead. It nonetheless has the sheen of magic, the ability to embrace bitterness with the caress of the sweet. Believing that people can change does not mean that they will. The rascals, the despots, the abusers, they will not vanish. But, optimism can only stand in opposition to those who embrace its counterpart. Optimism grows strong on a steady diet of naysaying
Optimism being contagious, pass its power along to those with whom you come in contact. With a groundswell of positive thinking, we can write a new chapter for our great-grandchildren to read about in history books: perhaps the “The Epoch of Bonhomie” or “The Age Of Chill Vibes.”
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner/mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.
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