Sometimes I have a pessimistic outlook on things and the language that escapes me surprises me when I think back to it. Often it manifests in the form of complaining- something we're all guilty of, and more than we realize. Complaining is an easy form of expression that rarely leads to problem solving. Often it's just a way of getting things out and trying to be heard, yet most often other's don't really care to hear it. I rarely hear complaints evolving into problem solving. Sitting in the financial district near my office at lunch time is a true test in patience as I overhear people around me complaining about the smallest things. Somehow I always find myself sitting next to two people who seem to be colleagues, and they spend their entire lunch break complaining about their manager, or subordinate, or cleaning staff, or client, and so on. I'm not trying to eavesdrop on their vapid conversation, it just happens as they go back and forth complaining about their problems. I'll have to limit this paragraph sooner than later since it's turning into a complaint in itself.
Entrepreneur Tim Ferriss talks more about what a complaint is and isn't, but he also creates a 21 day challenge to try and avoid complaining entirely. It's difficult to go even a few hours once you pay attention to it. Action once again proves to be the remedy, but understanding why we complain to begin with was tremendously helpful for me. Author Carol Dweck wrote a book called Mindset which explains the two different types of mindsets people have- fixed or growth. The book's premise in itself is quite simple and binary, yet essential to explore. You either have a fixed mindset which means you think abilities and skills are innate and you're either good at them or you're not (which she argues will limit your ability to learn and develop), or you have a growth mindset which means you believe that you can be good at anything with persistence and action. But ultimately it's the mindset, the frame of mind, which is the key to unlocking our potential. There's a million different quotes and blogs on how to be happy, but none of them really explore why we think a certain way to begin with.
“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”
I needed to start cutting out negativity wherever possible. Step one was to cut out all forms of negative media. There’s a local news station that plays almost everywhere in Toronto - doctor’s offices, subway platforms, office lobbies, elevators, and so on. I once decided to give it a go and watch it for 15 solid minutes. 95% of the content was about the following topics: terrorism, rape, car accidents, injuries to children, bombings, natural disasters, political scandals, rape, terrorism, political unrest, bombings, rape, terrorism, bankruptcy, assassinations, crises, hate crimes, car accidents, celebrities, hurricanes, natural disasters, political unrest, and terrorism. I might have repeated myself a few times there, but that’s exactly what this station does all day long with that absurd ticker at the bottom of the TV. One particular piece of news that stood out was this:
Car accident in northern Nepal leaves two dead
Bless their dead souls, but really, how does this news help me in any way? First of all, who are ‘they’? Why do we need to know that they’re dead? Was it an issue with their vehicle that needs to be recalled? Did a malicious Canadian run them off a cliff? If you can identify a single reason about how that extremely vague Nepalese tragedy will change your life for the better, please add it in the comments.
Working on the crisis phone line for nearly a year has taught me a lot in this regard. My role on the line is primarily to be an empathic listener, and I've greatly enhanced those skills. But in all the hours I’ve logged there I realize just how hard it is to be an empathic listener when someone feels absolutely hopeless. The vast majority of callers need support, and I’ll gladly provide it as best I can. Unfortunately, a small amount of callers show no consideration of changing their tone and attitude, and it becomes evident that their life’s circumstances have beaten them down so badly that they can’t find the words to turn it around. I feel for their pain, but I feared taking it home with me. Too many nights I’d tossed and turned after a late shift.
But every now and then I speak to someone who calls with a truly horrible story, yet the call ends with me feeling completely alive and inspired. And it’s not because their pain makes me feel better about myself. It’s because they sound like the most confident people in the world as they talk about how they’re going to overcome adversity- no matter what it takes. These callers are looking for solutions, not directly from me, but from life itself. No matter the traumatic sexual abuse they experienced, the addictions they suffer from, the chronic pain that cripples them, the job they got fired from, the partner that cheated on them, they demonstrate adversarial growth. They call for my support, but they know that words are only part of the battle.
One of my favourite calls was from an older lady who suffered through a life of chronic pain and debilitating illnesses. She lost everything because of it- her job, her friends, her home. But the nature of her call wasn’t to garner sympathy. She wasn’t calling to tell me how sad she was. She called to tell me that at age 75 she was the happiest she’d ever been. She put time into researching her illnesses. She pursued a variety of treatments. She found new friends who were there for her. She found love in someone who also knew what pain was. And she just wanted to call to tell me that she was doing it. She didn’t fear death. She didn’t fear getting older. She just looked forward to tomorrow and the day after that. I remember hanging up the phone and feeling chills down my spine. I love when the callers heal me.
Always have hope. Your best days can be yet to come. But that’s up to you.
What are your favourite positive news sources (blogs, networks, websites, etc.)?