Monday, February 16, 2009


This is something that I can not stop thinking about. I should have posted about it a while ago because that always helps me organize and sort my thoughts. I only have a few minutes to write this because I have to spend some time with my kiddos on their day off, so excuse bad wording or lack of clarity. I'm just spitting this out so I can stop thinking about it quite so much and also get some feedback.

A few posts back I put up the following quote by Laura Rowley, author of Money and Happiness:

"In 2001, my company laid off 400 people after a merger. I loved my job, and the layoff was a huge disappointment. But I have a peculiar worldview: I am the tenth of 11 children. In most families, I would never have been born at all. As a result, I tend to think anything is possible. Growing up in that lively environment, I saw my parents overcome many challenges by staying committed to their values and taking a longer term view rather than sweating the details. My mother's classic line was: "This too shall pass"--a philosophy that carries no small amount of hope. When I experienced a setback, such as losing a scholarship competition, she would insist there was something more worthwhile waiting for me. Because of this I have spent my life trying to figure out the hidden opportunity in the crisis. (It beats weeping in public.) I looked at my layoff as a challenge to restructure my work life around my kids, and it turned out to be a wonderful gift: I published my first book about a year later. Did I mourn the loss of my job? Sure. Was the transition terrifying at times? Absolutely. Did I despair? Never. My worldview made the difference."

So here's what I've been thinking about: Where do people get the pick-yourself-up-dust-yourself-off worldview? Jorge is that way. I'm that way. I could never see myself, for example, wallowing in self-pity for more than a few minutes. It just seems such a waste. I would rather be hated than pitied. Even though I am fairly fatalistic, I can't imagine having an attitude of resignation or despair about the bad things that happen to me or others. An attitude of victimization is one of the few things that makes my skin crawl. I may not be in control of my own outward success, but I am fully in control of my happiness. In other words, if my dreams were thwarted, rather than giving up or raging against God, I would think it's time for new dreams.

Watching Slumdog Millionaire made me think a lot about this. I think many would say that a hopeful and optimistic outlook on life is learned, but I see that it can vary within the same family. So is it just something people are born with? Something we choose? What thinkest thou?


Dina said...

I'm with you! I get angry at the whole victim mentality. Sure, any of us at various times in our lives could decide to give up and play the victim. What good does it do? Are victim people happier? No. I'm the ultimate optimist and believer in making your own happiness.

In my experience, I don't think you can teach it. I think you are either that way or you aren't.

Is that why many people stay on welfare?

Mama Ava said...

I think there's a large part that is how you're raised...parents who have that attitude and world view raise their children in that environmnet and so the children see the world in a similar way.

But I think there's also an innate aspect as well...there is a lot of work done on resiliency some children that live in horrible circumstances manage to care for themselves and others, seeking out ways to manage and cope, even caring for siblings at a young age. Clearly there's something in that child or person that makes them persevere when so many others can't.

I think the welfare issue is more complicated than that. Poverty is systemic and very difficult to overcome. Often we judge people from our perspective of privelege and it's hard to see how people really don't have the understanding or courage to take risks or do things differently. Part of that is resiliency as well, but it's also a matter of having exposure to those ways of doing things.

athena said...

i totally agree with mama ava.

ML said...

Generally speaking I tend to think it's a choice, but what's difficult to figure out is why doesn't everyone choose happiness? Maybe some people just don't know how.
This post made me think about how I felt after I read "Man's Search for Meaning" by Viktor Frankl. His observations really made me appreciate the control we have over those things that are solely ours to choose--dispondency or hope, joy or despair, faith or fear, cynicism or belief--we decide.
That said, I also recognize that some people have much, much bigger obstacles to that choice than I have had, and in their situations I very well might lose that part of me that hopes--I don't like to think that, but I acknowledge the possibility.

Mike and Mal said...

I agree with Mama Ava, and here's another little snippet of evidence towards her argument: When is it ever one thing? (The answer is "Never," in case you missed that.) There's just never anything in life that is ALL nature or ALL nurture. I agree that some people may be born with an inclination towards one world view or another, but I refuse to believe that it is those select few who are allowed a happy outlook. I also think that, if they are in the right circumstances long enough, they can lose that world view.

To paraphrase Rocky in his lastest: Life is hard, and it'll beat you down if you let it. The point is, not to let it. It's our job to fight back hard enough so life can't pull us to the floor.


Dave Thurston said...

Initially, I wrote a longer response, but the gist is. . .

Those of us that get thrown into the dirt and realize that it is just a minor setback are quite fortunate to realize that we need to stand back up, dust ourselves off, and move forward again.

I wonder if there is a good way to pass that along to contemporaries as well as to offspring?

Anonymous said...

I was raised thinking being positive was a choice until I was diagnosed with SADD. Although I am a very positive person, when your in a depression it is nearly impossible to see any light no matter what you do and some of it is physical like SADD so you have no control.
Things happen in life and we all deal with it differently. I agree with Mama Ave that the welfare issue is very complicated. Sure, there are some who make a career with it but generally there are people who really need it. I have known many who's pride got in the way from help and that can be a damaging thing.
Its a 'cast the first stone' kind of thing. If you are fortunate then be thankful but don't judge others who are in trouble and trying to deal the best they can.
And like ML said, everyone has their own capacity to deal with such things and you never know yourself until your in the situation.

Lets all be thankful.

Calandria said...

Dave, did you lose your original comment? I hate it when that happens!

What you wonder about passing it on to contemporaries, I wonder too. That's why I'm thinking about it in the first place.

athena said...

i think one of the best ways to pass it on is by sharing one's own experience by helping others in a genuine way. some people just don't soak it in by looking at someone else who has dealt with hardship.

Dave Thurston said...

Calandria, Didn't lose my original content, just my train of thought . . it wandered like a train searching for tracks.

I have a comment for your next post.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So many points from so many angles. It seems to me that so much of life is seizing the moment and knowing when that moment is and focusing on it. Does that have anything to do with the blog? Probably not. Bear with me. Having something so meaningful in your life that you can withstand the little and big disappointments and feel as you mentioned, when it's a bummer,"this too will pass", and give it a proper burial and move back onto focus. Not always easy. Life is a mixture, for sure. Chemical imbalances can be tough. We may be predisposed to some. I think of how difficult it must be for Steven Hawkins. What an amazing story he is with challenges.