I’m not sure what happened, but somehow I’ve come to be an optimist. I never would have thought myself so, in fact I used to think of myself as not only pessimistic but cynical–which to me is an even deeper level of pessimism than simply being pessimistic. My movement from adulthood into elder hood may have been when it happened, but whatever the case I’m pretty sure that it happened. And so I find myself hopeful about the world, about the future, even when the things I see happening around me point toward chaos, negativity, and destruction. Yes, my optimism is definitely is a function of more than simply becoming older and reaching “elder hood,” but also the wisdom that all of my life experiences–including and especially some of the most difficult ones– have made me, shaped me, forged me into who I am.
“How do you do that?” someone asked me recently. We had been talking about how sometimes we have to fragment ourselves so that we can fit into and function in places and situations that are unnatural or sometimes even harmful to us.
“It’s true that I have sometimes had to break myself into different pieces and shed certain parts of my identity in order to go into some situations, interact with some people, and do what needs to bed done.” I replied to her.
“It is unfortunate that we have to do that,” I acknowledged, “but you get forged back together in the fires of those situations. The fragments or shards that you’ve broken into get reforged, sometimes into something stronger than what you were before. So yes, fragmenting oneself can be damaging, but the redeeming side of it is that you come out on the other side stronger and better for having endured it.”
See? An optimist’s point of view…
I think perhaps it’s because I’ve been through some really challenging times in my life and have come out stronger on the other side that has allowed me to become more optimistic. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” the old adage says, and to an extent that’s true. It is in the fires of life’s difficulties that we learn what we’re made of, we persevere against tall odds, and if we’re really fortunate we emerge from those trials with a deeper sense of compassion for the people around us. If I’ve been through a particular difficulty I am more likely to empathize with and have compassion toward others than if I didn’t have some of the struggles that I’ve had. Perhaps that is not how everyone approaches life, but it’s how I do it, these days at least.
I’m grateful for having developed a sense of optimism and hope in the world around me. To do some of the work that I do and maintain a sense of equanimity, I have to believe the best of people even when they have at times shown me the worst of themselves. I’m not entirely sure how and when I learned this, but when I looked into my backpack of life tools and experiences, I discovered an extra measure of wisdom, compassion, and hopefulness. Important tools to have in my line of work. I once told a young, newly forming social change agent that one has to be able to hold both hopelessness and hopefulness in oneself at the same time. We will have those moments when the work we’re doing might feel hopeless, and yet I believe there is always hope. Not sure where that comes from, but I’m sure glad it’s there. Yet another gift, yet another blessing to be grateful for. And so it is.