Several years ago I was in a taxi heading to a hotel in New Jersey where I was to be a keynote speaker at a conference. Taxis are often driven by the most intelligent, engaging people if one only chooses to connect. How we got into this conversation I cannot recall but what the driver said was truly a gift: “You know we have lost our sense of wonder. There are so many inspiring things happening in this world every day but we let them pass on by, we take them for granted, we have no perspective on how incredible they are.”
I thought of this interaction following a friend of mine telling me that after his mother’s passing, his father spent the majority of his waking time watching the news. What began as an escape from his grief, however, grew into a deepening cynicism. “The world is going to hell in a handbasket,” became his daily admonition. This expression apparently has its origins in the use of handbaskets in France to catch the heads of people who were victims of the guillotine.
These two stories point to a fundamental truth – what we focus on and what we feed our minds eventually expresses itself as our view of the world.
And, our view of the world is directly connected to how we experience the world. Whether we live boldly or live in fear is motivated by the perspective we have, the filter we use, and the lens through which we look at what is happening in the larger world and in the smaller world in which we operate every day.
The news is only the news because it is the exception to the rule. This is not a denial of reality. It is putting what happens in our world, the tragedies, the conflicts, the disasters into perspective. It is understanding that if negative news takes up the larger part of our conversations then cynicism – the cancer of the mind – will be a likely result.
The other reality is that in every country, in hundreds of cities, in every corner of the world people are having a different conversation – how do we create better lives for all of us? And, more importantly, they are taking action. These efforts will rarely capture the headlines but every day, somewhere, thousands of lives are the beneficiaries.
Recently I learned of the organization – Pencils of Promise. The genesis of this remarkable story begins with a young man, Adam Braun, who was motivated to build schools throughout the developing world. Where did the idea begin? From a simple answer to a question. At the age of 21, while backpacking in India, Adam asked a little boy begging in the street: “What would you like most in the world” He replied: “A pencil!”
Adam was stunned, but that one answer stirred his soul and eventually gave clarity to the purpose he was seeking. Today, Pencils of Promise is the manifestation of his commitment to that purpose. It has gone beyond anything he could have envisioned. A new school is being built every one hundred hours. Thousands upon thousands of children through access to education are being awakened to their potential and given hope. Now that is inspiring!
Sarah Owen Bigler, a mother of two, told the following story on Facebook. Bigler was waiting in line at a Target store near her home in Indiana. Anxious to complete her transaction she was held up by an elderly woman counting out her change to pay. “Part of me, the part that had a long day at work, the part
of me who had a one-and-a-half year old having a melt-down in the cart……. was frustrated with this woman and the inconvenience she had placed on me,” she wrote.
“But then I watched this young employee, Ishmael Gilbert, count her change, ever so tenderly taking it from her shaking hands. I listened to him repeatedly saying, ‘Yes, mam,’” Bigler said it was only when she realized her young children were closely watching the scene and learning a valuable lesson about patience and kindness….that I realized I too needed a refresher on this lesson.”
Ishmael, a father himself, responded, “It just feels good to be recognized for good work, but this isn’t something new. I treat all customers the same, the way I want to be treated. It felt good because that’s the kind of example I want to be for my daughter.”
Adam Braun, Ishmael Gilbert, two stories that are inspiring in terms of their impact on the world. However, you can put different names to different causes to different circumstances and they are being repeated by people every minute all over the planet. Whether it is building schools, patiently serving the elderly, feeding the hungry, finding homes for the homeless, the number of people who are compassionate, kind and good overwhelms those who are not.
Cynicism and negativity are convenient. There are numerous bars and pubs where one can clearly here choruses of “Ain’t it awful.” And the truth is that awful things happen and they happen to good people. What we witness is heartbreaking and often beyond comprehension. Putting our arms around the enormity of it all can feel overwhelming.
What is the solution? Give in to the reality but never give up on changing that reality. The world will not advance and positive change will not happen if we align ourselves to the negative. As the Serenity prayer so beautifully states: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Understanding the duality and ambiguity in our world requires much thought and reflection. But with failure there is also triumph, with sadness there is joy, with hopelessness there is happiness. A fully lived life encompasses all of these feelings and experiences. And that so many not only survive but thrive through all of these experiences is inspiring.
“We are called to be the architects of the future, not its victims.” Buckminster Fuller