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Concepts for Troubling Times

With the financial and employment crises seeming to grow worse by the day, tension surrounding the presidential election, the continued wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the general “if it bleeds it leads” mentality of the media, it seems that there’s bad news on every front every time you turn around. I’m not sure if the intended effect is to depress people, but it is easy to be disheartened with the way things are.

How, then, can you maintain an optimistic outlook in these troubling times?

In spite of how things may appear, there are many reasons and ways to have a positive attitude on life.

I’m reminded of the old song by William DeVaughn, “Be Thankful For What You Got.” It’s easy to obsess over the things we don’t have (material items, the ideal job, a perfect relationship), but take some time to reflect on what you do have. Remember that no matter what your circumstances are, there is someone who has it worse. It may sound strange to use other people’s misfortunes to lift your spirit, but putting yourself in their shoes can give you a renewed sense of appreciation for your life.

If you are frustrated about politics, think about places like North Korea, Zimbabwe, or Burma, where people don’t enjoy anywhere near the level of democracy as we do in the United States. I won’t claim that our system is perfect, but even if election outcomes are not to our liking, we at least have a say in the matter, which is more than can be said for dictatorships and other repressive systems.

Wish you had a bigger, newer house? There are around 12,000 homeless people in Nashville who struggle daily with where they are going to sleep that night. Especially with the weather getting colder, that is a situation I’m sure none of us wants to be in. Beyond finding a place to lay their head, they have to be constantly on guard to protect their personal safety. Remember the case of Tara Cole, the homeless woman who drowned when two men pushed her into the Cumberland River in 2006. Be grateful you aren’t at risk for that type of attack.

Advertising is always reminding us of our imperfect bodies, offering surgery, alcohol, cars and even deodorant as ways to make us appear sexier and more worthy of attention. Watching too many commercials is enough to give anyone body issues. But before stressing out over that 10 pounds that you can’t seem to lose, reflect on people who have major physical problems as the result of accidents, medical conditions, or, in the case of veterans, war. Activities like walking or changing our clothes are so mundane that we often perform these functions on automatic pilot, yet we shouldn’t take those things for granted.

Perhaps your worries aren’t as “deep” and are more personal in nature. Someone has treated you badly, or maybe you did someone wrong and can’t beyond feeling guilty.

For these situations I think the concepts of acceptance and forgiveness come in handy. First, you have to accept the reality of the situation. That does not mean enjoying it or deciding that things must always be this way. But the event has already happened, and staying negative is not going to change things; in fact, that may make it worse. If there is something you can do to improve the situation, take that action, then realize you have done all you can do. The rest is beyond your control.

After acceptance, the next stage is forgiveness. I know that’s a very difficult thing to do, especially when we feel we didn’t deserve to be wronged, but it is necessary. People are imperfect, and they will make mistakes. Try to treat them the way you want to be treated, instead of seeking revenge, and move on. This may entail you changing the nature of your relationship with that person, or ending it altogether, but trying to get “payback” is mentally draining and, even if achieved, usually does not have the desired effect because it doesn’t change what originally happened to us. The energy spent plotting on other people can be more productively used in other ways.

Forgiveness may be even more important if you are feeling guilty or ashamed. Again, realize that you aren’t perfect, and sometimes will do things you wish you hadn’t. But beating yourself up over it can lead to even more destructive behavior down the line. Take any action you can to rectify the issue, and resolve to do better if faced with the situation again.

In closing, I suggest combatting the blues by assisting other people. Helping another person is a guaranteed way of putting your problems on the backburner, if only temporarily. Volunteering at a homeless shelter, nursing home, hospital/hospice, the humane society, or other charitable organization is a great way of putting your talents to use while providing much-needed compassion to those who probably aren’t expecting it. If joining an organization isn’t your thing, just look around you for the little things you can do, like holding the door for someone or letting that driver change lanes. You may be surprised at how much better you feel after helping someone else.

From “Blackout” 10/27/08 by Anthony Rucker


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