Musings of a temporarily despairing optimist

Three and a half years ago I wrote a blog post that resonates so well for me today it’s frightening. There’s no doubt that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The post starts as follows:

HalfGlass1I’m a glass-half-full person by nature, but every once in a while the pervasive bad news leaves me with a heavy heart. The past few days have had that effect, with the ongoing reports of senseless bombing in Syria, continuing famines in the Sahel region of Africa going hand in hand with the unfathomably brutal internal conflicts in Sudan, and other stories of unimaginable horrors. In our part of the world, I despair that so many people in positions of leadership find it easier to point fingers at each other than do the right thing and be part of a solution. We lead by example, and too often the examples are not providing lessons that should be emulated. Man’s inhumanity to man sometimes overwhelms me, despite many examples of improvements in the human condition.  I have to keep reminding myself that we are a work in progress.

OK, enough of that. Instead, let’s consider what makes us feel good about the world around us. For most people, being treated with respect is high on their list. And if someone greets us with a smile as well as respect, it’s almost impossible not to smile in return. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” never fails.  Why do we keep forgetting that?

This old post goes on to talk about examples of good customer service and how it is completely a win-win situation for people to be nice to each other – everyone feels good and business is more successful – but yet it is no more common than common sense. The post ends with:

We all have choices in how we approach our work, regardless of whether we are in sales, service, teaching, management, or any other function. We live in a stressful world, where we can encounter many frustrations every day, and it is easy to get angry and point fingers. But anger begets anger and this makes us all losers. If, instead, we take a deep breath, give people the benefit of the doubt, and show by example a constructive way to overcome an issue, everyone stands to benefit. The same thing applies to life outside of work. What can we do, aside from choosing to frequent places that provide good customer service? How about leading by example? People might just follow your lead!

And this former conclusion brings me to a related issue that is causing me continuing distress at the moment: people are good at articulating what they don’t like and what they don’t want, but not nearly as good at saying, “how can I help make things better.” People like to look to a leader to solve all the problems, some of which are nearly unsolvable and many of which are beyond his or her control. But I get that; we live in hope and, considering what some leaders get paid these days, in some ways our expectations are not without reason. The part that I do not get is why so few good people are prepared to go beyond complaining and finger-pointing. Why so few people are prepared to be part of a solution instead of expending their energy to exacerbate the problem. Why do people prefer complaining and being angry to following examples of kindness and mutual respect? One of my heroes, Pope Francis (and I’m not Catholic), must be asking himself that of his colleagues in the Church establishment!

Is it this trait in mankind that has Donald Trump still in the running in the Republican nomination race? My glass is not looking as half-full as I’d like it to be at the moment.

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14 Responses to Musings of a temporarily despairing optimist

  1. DM says:

    I too echo the sentiment that it is good to see you are writing here again! What’s weird is I do have you on my WordPress feed, so I’m sure these posts came through..normally when I log on,I scan back to make sure I haven’t missed anyone, but I did in your case. Velcomen back! (my grandmother had something hanging on the wall that said “Velcomen” instead of Welcome..so that is not a Type 0 😉 DM

  2. Emilia says:

    I can’t resist coming in again…
    This morning, the first day of “Black History Month” Google treats us to Frederick Douglass life story and, I think, is fitting to this discussion that we remember one of his famous quotes: “Without struggle, there can be no progress”.
    I think it is this struggle that “sometimes” makes us see the glass half-empty, specially when progress is slow.
    Now I’m going to get my glass half full and continue my day as I will have to struggle in a meeting today to convince some of the participants to cooperate in doing some good!

  3. Bill Holland says:

    _____

  4. Emilia says:

    Please keep your glass half-full at ALL times!
    Living “south-of-the-border” for half a year is giving me a perspective that I never had in Canada: the conservatives are more conservative and,yes, the liberals are more liberal. So, is half the world wrong? Maybe not, but there is certainly a lack of understanding of each other’s points of view.
    Let me just relate to you a true story a friend of mine, Del, just told me yesterday. A few months ago he befriended an Iranian gentleman that is temporarily in this country on business. After a few encounters this is the conversation that issued:
    Iranian: why are you being nice to me, I thought the Americans hated Iranians
    Del: we do not like your politics but that has nothing to do with us liking the people.
    After a few more encounters my friend got to know this man well enough and this is the conversation they had:
    Del: I understand you have more than one wife how many wifes do you have?
    Iranian: 3 wifes and 6 children
    Del: so you must have a big house for such a big family
    Iranian: No, each one of my wifes has their own apartment where they live with their children and I support all of them financially.
    Seeing the confusion on Del’s face, the Iranian proceeded:
    In Iran we think that you, in America, all have 3 or 4 mistresses and support none of them, abandoning the children to Social Services. I think our system is better, we do not have Social Services.
    TOUCHÈ!
    The other night Norm & I went to a presentation on Islam at the biggest church in town; an auditorium that takes about one thousand people…it was packed! People are trying to understand each other…maybe not all of them but some are.
    I read somewhere the other day that something in the human brain makes some of us pessimistic and others optimistic the ratio is 5:1…..

    Now, Mr.T being still in the running and probably winning, at least tomorrow, is a puzzle to me (even to my conservative friends, which don’t even have a clue who to vote for come election time) but the fact is, there is no good leader running in that party and with 8 to choose from….

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hi Emilia! I still think you should have your own blog! Thank you so for these stories and insights. I especially love that you and Norm went to the presentation you describe, and even more to know that these types of events are happening. This is exactly the kind of thing that needs to happen, people looking for solutions and not waiting for someone in charge to do everything (which seems to be impossible, one can only shake one’s head). People actually reaching out to each other; that is what helps make my glass half full again. Thank you!❤

  5. Keith McIntosh says:

    The was a headline of a story in the October 26 1986 edition of the Boston Herald that I have never forgotten – “Losing hurts worse than winning feels good”. Being from the New York area Jane, you might not have felt the same as I did that day. But I think a lot of people approach life believing that line to be true. It’s hard to lose and it’s hard to make mistakes. And others are more than happy to point out your failures. Why take the chance of having to endure that pain? Wait for someone else to try and join in the fun if they fail. You still get the benefit if they happen to succeed. If they happen to try in the first place.
    I wonder why anyone wants to be a leader. A politician who tries to change even the smallest thing can only hope to please half the people. Imagine trying to change something significant and therefore complex. Run a business and there will be someone complaining that you are making a profit, didn’t hire their cousin, weren’t open when they needed you, were open too many hours… Be a teacher and assign too much homework. Be a teacher and don’t assign enough homework.
    People don’t lead because failure hurts. The headline was wrong though. Nothing feels better than winning. All the mistakes you make and the times you fail are worth it to win once. Because when you win as a leader you change people’s lives. You make the world a better place. As a teacher do you remember the kids you couldn’t help or couldn’t reach? Or do you remember the kid who grows from what you taught him and goes out and invents something or creates something or becomes a leader. Running a business that is successful and makes a profit gives jobs to people and puts money in their pockets and food on their table and makes their family more secure which lets their kids become confident and become creators and leaders. I am confident that somewhere in this province there is already the next Frank McKenna who will become a politician and make the really tough decisions and stand behind them.
    We can’t all be leaders and we can’t all change the world. But we shouldn’t make it harder for the ones that might. I’d suggest we should all try a little harder to look at the glass as half full. We should stand up and applaud everyone who tries. And encourage the ones who fail to try again. We need the risk takers and the optimists more than ever.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Keith, you never cease to amaze me with your wisdom and patience. Thank you for this passionate reminder of what I really know – it just gets me down from time to time! And thank you for being there always, for many people whose lives you’ve already impacted. Would you mind if I used your response in my follow-up blog?! Seriously.
      Just for the record, in my neighbourhood you were either a Yankees fan or a Brooklyn Dodgers fan, and never the twain shall meet. Those of us on the Dodgers’ side never forgave them for moving to LA (I wrote letters when I was 11, begging them to change their mind), but sure as heck never switched to the Yankees. PLEASE!!!!

      • Keith says:

        Of course you can use my response if you think it’s presentable. I didn’t mean to rant. I do think it’s important that we help people be brave.

  6. Jane, I can’t tell you how excited I felt when I saw your blog post pop up in the Reader. I’ve missed you. Welcome back to my blogging world. Great post.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Francis. It’s great to see your name here. I used my blog briefly last May when I was writing some essays in French as part of French lessons I was taking, and it might have brought me back, but then I agreed to return to UNB for a year starting this past July 1 in an interim admin role, and that has pretty well highjacked my life. Until the Christmas holidays, that is, when the two weeks was long enough to remind me of what life in retirement was like! I had an overwhelming urge to write about our trip to the Arctic in August, which I indulged with some posts earlier in January … and now I know that when I just can’t help myself, my blog is there to allow me to put thoughts to “paper”. I’ll be back as a regular in July, I can see that now.🙂 Meanwhile, I’m sorry not to have the time to follow everyone through their blogs, but I’ll try from time to time. Happy February from the east coast, with the warmest winter I can remember… so far.

  7. alesiablogs says:

    I really like this post. I think you brought out exactly what is needed and really known to be truth by most. I am afraid we live in a defensive world. The biggest example I can give you after a 30 year career in nursing is the practice of defensive medicine. It makes me sad to say my own doctors have ordered tests on me that I did not need, but I believe they felt necessary to cover their ass. I can only hope and pray that we all can be more respectful of each other. I do not have that all figured out myself I must admit. I wish I did. I try awful hard to always do the right thing, but I do tell my kids at times, “DO NOT PROVOKE YOUR MAMA!” LOL Well you get the picture.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hi Alesia. Are you sure you don’t want to pick up your blog again?! One of the sad realities I’ve had to come to accept is that we are not all going to agree on everything all the time, but I wish that didn’t mean that we had to encourage such divisiveness. I think the defensiveness part you’re referring to has a lot to do with how litigious society has become. I’m not sure people understand that protecting oneself from litigation (often frivolous) costs a lot of money for everyone, including, as you illustrate, the health care system. Needless to say, I haven’t figured it out either!🙂

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