Many motivational gurus insist that “optimism” is the critical attribute required to overcome adversity. A positive attitude, they proclaim, is the stuff that fuels our troubled hearts to nevertheless drive onward when faced with seemingly insurmountable crisis or personal tragedy. The deluge of happy-yap spewed by these positive spinsters has several common themes that appeal to the hopeful masses:
- With the right attitude and outlook; you can overcome anything.
- When feeling defeated, pick yourself up anyway; don’t be such a bummer
- Fake it until you make it! Unhappy? Just smile! The physical action of smiling will in-itself improve your mood.
- Don’t wallow in self-pity; your cup of life is half full, not half empty.
- Believe in yourself and keep going. Push, push, push– you can do it!
You will be amazed, they say, at what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it. Wow, that’s heady stuff! It’s exciting just reading about it. Well, sort of. Although I’m still not exactly sure what to do. Except maybe smile more.
You will be amazed, they say, at what you can accomplish when you put your mind to it
But then again… You mean smile when I’m actually infuriated? You mean simply decide to be in a good mood when I feel horribly depressed? You mean “look at the bright side” when I’m sinking in cold dark quicksand all alone? Hmmm. I have a few problems with that. It isn’t genuine; it isn’t real; and it is not my experience. Let’s take a look:
It isn’t genuine
I have always been fascinated with memory skills. For example, using association exercises to memorize other people’s names. It is good technique and good form. Yet for many youthful years, I struggled. I know how to to do it; I even train people on it. But still, I wasn’t good at it.
It never dawned on me that the problem wasn’t the name-game; the problem was that I didn’t give a darn; I didn’t care. I know, youthful selfishness. Not proud of it; but it’s true. The point is, no matter how hard I tried, it wasn’t genuine. My underlying ineptness was due to my values, not my determination, not my technique, and not my actions. I couldn’t “fake it until I make it” because, deep inside, I didn’t want to. I didn’t value it.
.It never dawned on me that the problem wasn’t the name-game; it was that I didn’t give a darn.
Eventually, I outgrew my youthful indiscretion. Little did I know that later in life, upon losing my hearing, that I would ache to hear your name. What paradox that I have to relearn how to “listen” all over again to remember and restate other people’s names.
When greeting someone now, I look squarely into her eyes and closely study her face. I ask the person to deliberately and slowly articulate her name and, if required, to kindly write it down. Then I acknowledge the individual by repeating her name back, and, if applicable, I double check to ensure I am pronouncing it correctly.
Then I say, “Thanks Susan. It is a pleasure to meet you and to know your name.” Oddly enough, it’s not as hard as it was for me earlier in life. Why? Because today I really want to know your name. It’s genuine.
It isn’t real
This idea of having a positive vision, lofty dreams and looking at the world through rose-colored glasses seems oh-so attractive on the surface. But it isn’t real. Putting a positive spin on a negative situation smacks of denial, not resilience.
A rock-solid comprehension of staunch reality–especially negative reality– is a much healthier outlook and sets the stage for implementing real solutions. More important, it allows for acceptance of your current stake which, in my experience, is critical to ultimate perseverance.
Putting a positive spin on a negative situation smacks of denial
.I recently happened upon a great Harvard Business Review article entitled How Resilience Works. It hits the nail on the head about people who persevere:
“Resilient people have very sober and down-to-earth views of those parts of reality that matter for survival. That’s not to say that optimism doesn’t have its place…But for bigger challenges, a cool, almost pessimistic, sense of reality is far more important.”
It isn’t my experience
Of course, anyone can quote articles and anecdotes about perseverance and resilience. But it pales to what I know from experience. When I first lost my hearing, I felt destroyed. There were many difficult milestones on the hard road to acceptance.
I’ll never forget one such moment when sitting on my porch shortly after losing most of my hearing. I was extremely sad and felt terribly defeated as I sat alone looking skyward. There was a strong breeze and the leaves were fluttering. Then I suddenly realized that I couldn’t hear the wind. It was a devastating blow.
More than ever, I understand what I am up against. Accepting it, not fighting it is the key.
I miss the sound of my children’s’ beautiful voices. I yearn again for the music of Christmas, Broadway plays, church songs and concerts. Straining to understand what people are patiently “mouthing” to me is hard work and downright exhausting.
Watching others around me happily converse as I stand by haplessly out of the loop–that’s hard. And it’s tough sometimes to watch people laughing together and nodding their approval to one another while my heart sinks as I politely smile along wondering what’s so funny. These things are real. I have to deal with them every day.
And I do. As each pain registers, I understand that much more about what I am up against. Accepting it, not fighting it is the key.
I don’t want or need to spin things positive to heal. I need facts. Here are a few more data points that I have acquired since my deaf adventure began: That in the absence of sound there is new beauty. That in the perils of silence there is peaceful serenity. That in not hearing words, I am far more focused and perceptive toward other human queues. I now have a much keener sensitivity to others’ feelings based on their gestures and expressions and what they do, not what they say.
I have made new friends, forged greater bonds, and I have been inspired by the support and love of family and strangers alike. I have learned to trust people more, allow people to help me, and to be of greater service to others in return. I have new amazing stories to tell; and a new Blog, and a new vocation as public speaker to tell them. And I am even mastering the name game again.
Sky Without Sound
The reality is that the sky never looked more brilliant on that “dark day” when I couldn’t hear the wind. I had just never noticed it before. I have read dozens of poems and scores of quotes about the beauty and wonder of God’s deep blue sky. But appreciating the sky’s true brilliance wasn’t my actual experience until that precious moment in the depths of despair when I couldn’t hear the wind. Then I knew.
I am not an optimist; I am a realist. And that’s what makes my story so cool. I refuse to dazzle by platitudes. Passionate pleas to “be all you can be” may entertain an audience, but it will not inspire them. But sky without sound– now that inspires!