Always with the negative waves

I learn a lot from movies. And sometimes – sometimes!  – I learn from my parents too. Sometimes, my parents learn from movies and they share it with me and that’s a double whammy.

My dad may be many things, but I think above all, he’s an optimist. I am too. When life hands me lemons, mostly I wait for them to go all mouldy, stick them in a cannon and fire them right back. Not always, but mostly. Sometimes, I’m on to the solution before I’ve even thought about the lemony problem.

That’s not always good.

Riding roughshod over pessimists or realists with full-on lemony-orange, smiling, sugary optimism is just about the best way to make sure they don’t come with you on your ride, and if I learned anything about team-building and bringing a group of nay-saying Nannies together, I learned to listen to the problems. Sometimes, you even get to the bottom of why there’s a problem. And that’s not ever a bad thing. If I were a doctor, for instance, I’d probably have been the kind that would take a good look at you and write a prescription without a word. That wouldn’t make me a good doctor, it’d make me a terrible one. Listening to the realists and the pessimists got me to make sure I understood the problem before I chose to stick a band-aid on it or opt for an amputation.

Of course, just like the famous poem, the real troubles in your life are apt to be those that blindside you on some Tuesday afternoon. And those, you can’t predict.

Anyway, I was thinking about pessimism and negativity today. My dad’s the one who reminded me of Oddball in Kelly’s Heroes, played by the bonkers Donald Sutherland.

“Don’t hit me with them negative waves so early in the morning… Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?”

And if you put the fact that most of our problems in life are apt to be unpredictable, and the fact that being righteous and hopeful makes the difference, then you might see where I’m coming from.

We’ve all got woes. We’ve all got reasons not to be successful. We’ve all got things preventing us from reaching our potential. From the moment we’re born, we start totting up reasons to fail in life.

Some people choose to rely on those. Some people give them as reasons not to be happy or successful or to live their dreams. But chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re a world away from your forefathers, or your cousins in other climes who have overwhelming reasons not to live out their dreams. You’re probably not living in true poverty. You don’t have to go and fish through gigantic piles of refuse or make a living begging. You don’t have leprosy or cholera or typhoid. You’re alive, for a start. 150 years ago, in England, one in three babies died at birth. One in three mothers died giving birth. Your chance of living to five was 33%. You don’t live in Rwanda where the life expectancy is 42. You don’t live in South Africa, having been infected with HIV by your cheating partner.

When I was depressed, though, all these things just made me feel worse. Like I should be more grateful and be happy as a consequence. Depression is different. I don’t count Depressed Me as the person I really am. And mostly, I’m bloody glad to be alive, endlessly optimistic and generally happy.

There’s a lot I take for granted and should actually be thankful for. I always think of Lois in Malcolm in the Middle:

“You kids, you just take your legs for granted, you know, like nothing could ever happen to them. Well, let me tell you something: that is just wishful thinking. There’s meningitis, there are car accidents, I could be giving you a spanking and accidentally snap your spinal cord. Every day is a lottery, and first prize is that you don’t have to scoot yourselves around town on a skateboard with your hands. You think about that. ”

Firstly, I’m glad I have legs. I’m not a peasant in feudal England. I didn’t get sent down the pits. I didn’t work in cotton factories or get sent up chimneys. I lived a reasonably long time before I met with death. I didn’t get typhoid or diptheria. I’ve never had whooping cough. I never faced repression or oppression. I am at the pinnacle of having it all. God, I’ve had problems. I’ve had health problems and financial problems and mental health problems and I know grief and sadness as most of us do. I could blog about that, sending out my negative waves into the universe. I could show you all the reality of living in a ‘doer-upper’ where I have days where basics – like electricity and plumbing – just give up. I could blog about the horrors of living in a house that in winter takes a good three hours to get up to 15 or 16 degrees. I could show you pictures of the hole in my window frame that is so big a lizard can get in and out.

I think some people would like to see me suffering. I’m sure of it. But on the other hand, it would drive my Mum and my Nana mad with worry. I think we could all focus on the negatives in our life and it would make depressing reading. Maybe one of you would blog about how you work with idiots and bullies just to scrape a living, or how your Mum’s death changed everything, or how your husband dying turned your life inside out, or how cripplingly lonely it can be to be alive, or how you are terminally ill. Yes, it’d be reality. But it’s only one reality. This blog is one of my realities. I have several others but do you know what? They’re not interesting reading and my problems are probably mundane compared to everyone else’s. And I’m not scooting myself along on a skateboard, and that’s always something to be thankful for.

Regina Brett says, quite rightly in my opinion: ““If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.”

And she’s so right.

Sometimes, it’s good to share your problems, because then other people tell you theirs. And one of two things can happen. One is you realise your problem isn’t unique. It’s happened to someone else. And it’s happened to someone else who might have come through it alive and smiling, if a little battle scarred. Another is that you realise just how insignificant your problems are. There’s only ever one insurmountable problem, and that’s a terminal disease. And even then, there are ways to approach it. Now, I’m going to point you to a blog I read. Lil Boo Blue. It was a crafty blog but then the writer got cancer. It wasn’t terminal, and that’s a little different. But she says one thing: “Choose Joy”

I can’t even read the introduction without welling up.

She’s right though. We have to choose joy. And it is a choice. I think we do that by listening to other people’s stories of triumph over adversity. Hearing a preacher speak about his time growing up sniffing glue on the rubbish heaps in Mexico after he was orphaned, that pretty much puts paid to my whingeing about the fact I had to wait 30 minutes in the supermarket.

Woe and adversity aren’t some kind of bizarre Top Trumps game where we can compete to be more hard-done-to than someone else, because I bet if you find the person holding the card that trumps all others, they are probably more optimistic than you could ever imagine.

That’s what I love about people.


4 thoughts on “Always with the negative waves

  1. I love the quote about putting your problems in a pile and grabbing your own back 🙂

    One of the things I learnt very quickly as an emmigrant was never to just sound off or whinge about a problem to my family, especially in an email. They can’t do anything to help and it just worries the heck out of them. Plus, by the time they read it, I’d most probably got over it or solved it. I present the most positive picture because that is how it is most of the time and because it’s not fair to do anything else.

    One of the things that can happen when you share your problems is that they escalate, at least mentally. You focus on them too much, talk about them too much. Everyone chips in with theirs and it turns into a misery feast. You feel vindicated with all the support and sympathy you are getting and the problem grows in importance. Sometimes it really is better to ignore a problem and it will go away.

    The only time I would advocate sharing is if there is something to be done, but you need a bit of motivation or advice about how to approach it, and already have the intention of doing it. If you have no intention of changing anything or solving the problem, then don’t share it.

  2. So thought provoking and very well said. Now that was a terrific and uplifting post to read while enjoying my morning coffee 🙂

    I have spent much time with people who always see the glass as half empty and they so often seem totally oblivious to the fact that we all have our own problems, but that some people are gifted with a positive way of looking at things, in spite of problems. I really do see it as a gift to be able to think positively, because those who cannot certainly don’t enjoy being the way they are. I believe they would really love to be one of those who are able to see the glass half full.


    1. I think they would. Sometimes, I do want to say to people who dwell in their problems that there’s a whole world out there filled with problems worse than theirs. And even, from time to time, my own.

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