In life I strive to be an optimistic person, although, I think I end up somewhere in the middle between being an optimist and a pessimist. This middle area I like to refer to as “being a realist.”
Overall, I’m basically fine with being a realist because it keeps me grounded. The problem, though, with being a realist is that there is little room left if I want to make a change to the events in the world.
Optimists see potential to change things for the better, while the realist simply sees what is.
Terrorism and shootings are now commonplace in our world. And the more I hear and read in the news, the stronger my desire to escape from it all. That’s the realist in me talking. The realist in me also questions where an escape even exists. If the world itself is in trouble, than no where on this planet is immune from those troubles. (I guess maybe the realist in me is leaning toward the pessimistic end of the middle; a place along the scale I try to avoid.)
If so, you know the inner struggle that occurs when faced with the endless barrage of despair and violence we’ve seen lately in our world.
The optimist in us wants to join the thoughts and conversation with our inner-realist. (As I previously said, I do try my best to be an optimist.) But even if the realist allows such a dialogue, what might it sound like? In light of the tensions in the world, what can our inner-optimist say without sounding either naive or like a quote from a greeting card?
How can we be realistic AND optimistic? Because I think most of us would like to be BOTH.
The optimist views the world from the mindset that every challenge can be overcome, and believes peace and joy always prevail. Even if we can’t fully imagine how that might be true, optimism motivates us to strive for it anyway. Because we know, without at least trying, a future full of hope will never be realized.
The joint dialog of the optimist with the realist must take into account the difficult realities we face and avoid naive “answers.”
What we need is hope fulfilled through practical, effective action.
Here are seven ways to help face the turmoil of the world as both an optimist AND a realist:
1. Remember, you’re not alone.
The daunting task of coping with a world in turmoil is not yours nor mine to struggle with by ourselves. Seek out others who feel the same as you and, instead of complaining or despairing, work together on practical solutions to the problems.
2. Know you are not a victim.
A victim is a person who suffers as a result of events happening to them that they can’t control. You may say that according to that definition we are victims of what’s happening in the world. But, if we change our perspective on how we define “world”, not meaning the entire globe, rather, defining my world as consisting of my local community, we can create reasonable expectations.
Creating reasonable expectations allows us to actually do something to affect change. For example, it is unreasonable to make our personal goal that of world peace. However, creating a peaceful home, work, or local community is a reasonable personal goal.
3. Empower yourself and others.
Educate yourself about the struggles we’re facing (from all points of view) and solutions tried in the past. Learn what worked and what didn’t work, figuring out why it didn’t work and what you can do differently now to make positive change more likely. Seek out and obtain the resources needed to carry out your goal.
Our ability to work with others to find a solution to shared problems removes the label of “victim,” replacing it with “survivor.” Although we need educate ourselves about the issues, it’s also important to keep a balance, allowing for some news-free periods.
4. Reclaim your power.
Once we realize that we are not powerless, our desire to implement change brings about a renewed strength and optimism. Recognize the power and strength that you individually have, and that we as a group have, and find creative ways of using your power for the common good.
Do not let the power itself take over. Even if we feel invincible, in reality we won’t always make the proper decisions. Learning from our mistakes is a sign of strength, for the knowledge gained from the mistake will help you to avoid that, or similar mistakes, in the future.
5. Focus your effort and your energy.
As I previously mentioned, our power and abilities are limited, so wisely focus your time and energy on those tasks which can be completed, and not on tasks you know are impossible for you to complete. No one person, or one group, can do everything.
6. Show some empathy for others.
As we learn about the issues affecting our world, we begin to realize that many of our problems originate with people not understanding each other. We tend to view the world from our own perspective and validating our own history, failing to recognize that those with whom we may disagree also view their world from their perspective and history.
Finding solutions to problems presupposes that all parties agree on the nature of the problem. Empathy, placing ourselves in the shoes of another, provides us a deeper understanding of the concerns of others. By viewing the world through their eyes, we become better informed and thereby better prepared to find and carry out real solutions. Empathy does not mean agreeing with another’s opinion. It simply means you see their perspective as they view it.
7. Don’t forget self-care.
The realist in me recognizes that to accomplish all of this, I will end up draining and wearing myself out. But in the union of the realist with the optimist, I recognize the need for self-care. Take time for yourself; keep up bonds with your family and friends; find activities or hobbies which do not relate to the work at hand; spend time in meditation and quiet to focus yourself.
Obviously, I do not propose these steps as absolute solutions to the problems of the world. But I do offer them as guides to keep us grounded in reality and keep us hopeful and passionate enough to make a lasting difference.
(This article was originally published at Your Tango. Reprinted with permission from the author.)