I’m re-writing this article to help me process my feelings and mental struggles with all that is happening in my country. I originally wrote this piece back in 2015, yet I feel it remains appropriate for 2020. I, and others, struggle with a response to what we are feeling as there are so many diverse feelings at the same time. How do we process, in a healthy way, that which we feel powerless over?
A conversation between the Optimist and the Realist
In my life, I strive to be an optimistic person, although, I think I end up somewhere in the middle between being an optimist and a pessimist. This middle area I like to refer to as “being a realist”. I’m fine with being a realist as I feel it keeps me grounded in what is happening around me and in the larger world; the good and the bad. Although, a problem in being a realist is there is little room for making a change to the events which are happening. The optimist sees potential for change while the realist simply sees what is.
Recently there’s been an onslaught of negative news in all of the media outlets. It seems that the more I hear and read the news the stronger my desire is to escape from it all. That’s the realist in me talking. I guess the realist in me is leaning toward the pessimistic end of the middle; a place along the scale I try often to avoid.
The optimist in me wants to join the thoughts and conversation with the realist. As I said, I try my best to be an optimist. If the realist in me would allow such a dialogue the optimist, how might it proceed? In the present reality of the tensions in the world, what could the optimist say without sounding either naïve or like a quote from a greeting card? What does the blend of a realist with an optimist produce?
The optimist in me views the world from the mindset that every challenge can be overcome, where peace and joy always prevail. Even if we can’t imagine how that might be true, the optimist motivates us to strive for it anyway. Without at least trying, a future full of hope will never be realized.
The joint dialogue of the optimist with the realist would take into account the difficult realities of the situations we face, yet devoid of naïve “answers”. In place of answers, we will feel a sense of hope; a hope fulfilled through practical action.
Here is what the conversation between the realist and optimist in me concluded:
- We aren’t alone. The struggles in coping with a world in turmoil are not yours or mine to struggle with by ourselves since there are many people who feel similarly. Seek out others who are feeling the same emotions as you and, instead of complaining or despairing, work together on creating practical solutions to the problems.
- We aren’t victims. A victim is a person who suffers as a result of events happening to them for which they are powerless to control. Discover the difference between what is and is not in your control. In this way, you can create reasonable expectations. Reasonable expectations allow us to actually do something resulting in our expected change. For example, it is unreasonable to make our goal that of world peace; while a goal of creating a peaceful home, work, or local community is a reasonable goal.
- Empower yourself and others. Educate yourself about the struggles and solutions tried in the past. Learn what worked and what didn’t work, figuring out why it didn’t work and what you may do differently to make it work now. Find and obtain the resources needed to carry out your goal. Our ability to work with others in finding a workable solution to problems removes the label of victim, replacing it with survivor. Although we need to be educated about the issues, it is also important to keep a balance, allowing for some news-free periods.
- Regain your power. Once we realize that we are not powerless, our desire to implement change brings about renewed strength and optimism. Recognize the power and strength that you individually, and you as a group, have. Find creative ways of using your power for the good. Do not let the power itself take over, for hubris makes one feel invincible, while in reality, even though we have power, we will not always make the proper decisions. Knowing how to learn from our mistakes is a sign of strength, for the knowledge gained from the mistake will help you to avoid that, or similar mistakes, in the future.
- Focus your energy. As I previously mentioned, our power and abilities are limited, so wisely focus your energy on those tasks which can be completed and not on those tasks you know are impossible for you to complete. No one person, or one group, can do everything.
- Empathy. As we learn about the issues affecting our world we begin to realize that many of our problems originate with us not understanding each other. We tend to view the world from our perspective and our history, failing to recognize that those with whom we may disagree are also viewing their world from their perspective and history. Finding solutions to problems presupposes that all parties agree on the nature of the problem. Empathy, placing ourselves in the shoes of another, provides us a deeper understanding of the concerns of others. By viewing the world through their eyes we will be better informed and so better prepared to find and carry out solutions, together. Empathy does not necessarily mean I agree with another’s opinion, only that I view the other’s opinion respectfully.
- Self-care. The realist in me recognizes that to accomplish all of this I will end up draining and wearing myself out. But in the union of the realist with the optimist, I recognize the need for self-care. Take time for yourself; keep up bonds with your family and friends; find activities or hobbies which do not relate to the work at hand; spend time in meditation and quiet to focus yourself.
I don’t propose these steps as solutions or answers to the problems we are currently facing. But rather as guides to keep us grounded in reality and yet passionate enough to still try to make a difference.