24 hour learnings:
- Unfocused thoughts lead to unfocused writing
- I tend toward word vomit when I’m excited
Note: Hereafter, I will use “MMB” as the abbreviation for “Make(s) Me Better” if the title gets too long.
My deepest gratitude to lovingly honest friends whose feedback on last night’s post inspired me to attempt it again! Let’s see how this goes—
Last Saturday, as I prepared for the Better Angels workshop, I thought of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspirational words: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” I have referred to this quote many times over the years, and a phrase that I often add goes something like, “Bend that arc! Hang on it with all your might!” Meaning the arc bends toward justice only because we make it so, by working tirelessly for it, by consistently walking our talk.
Preparing for the presentation, I thought about friends who express hopelessness at any possibility for connection between opposing political sides, that we can actually work together to get anything done. Some might even say that the Better Angels mission is futile, a waste of energy and time.
Then I felt something akin to a tidal wave rise within me, and I texted a friend, “I intend to make today a day of fierce, infectious optimism.” At that moment I knew my goal was to take every experience of kindness, connection, empathy, openness, generosity, magnanimity, conviction, and hope, and channel it to the workshop and its participants. Because though it was to be a skills workshop, teaching a way of doing, what we really need are all of the qualities I just listed—they are the way of being that bring true meaning and connection to the skills.
Google Dictionary defines fierce: “showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity”; and optimism: “hopefulness and confidence about the future or the successful outcome of something.”
Fierce Optimism Is:
Urgency with Patience
All important social movements occur (and continue) over generations. Confrontation and revolution are necessary sometimes, but they are not enough. It’s consistent, slow, grass roots change on the local level that sustains progress. Fierce optimism gives me faith that even the smallest actions I make in service of my cause have impact. I can set realistic expectations for how much I can move this mountain today. Pacing myself, practicing persistence with patience, conserves energy and prevents burnout. I can feel empowered and liberated at the same time, confident in my individual agency.
Patient urgency also allows me to look up every once in a while, notice my surroundings, and adapt to subtle changes, like when someone starts to soften. The bulldozer of impatient words and heavy dogma plows through the door of someone’s mind that might have swung open freely, had I taken a more gentle approach.
Strength with Flexibility
Fierce optimism roots itself in core values, and also allows for learning and adaptation. It confers the confidence to challenge our own beliefs and values, perhaps reinforcing them, grounding us in and strengthening our own personal truth. But this confidence also helps us hear others’ stories, which broadens our perspective. Standing in our core values while reaching out in curiosity, we learn about each other, and curtains open on a vast landscape of understanding that we may never have imagined.
Bruce Lee’s life philosophy included a metaphor of the bamboo and the oak. Both are admirably strong, but under intense forces of nature, the great oak may break irrevocably. The bamboo bends; it maintains its integrity, standing straight and strong again after the storm. Listening with openness and curiosity is not weakness. Allowing for nuance and the possibility that my mind may be changed is strength. It makes me calm, agile, adaptable, and more effective.
Conviction with Generosity
Our assumptions matter. They show up in our presence. Let us check our attitudes toward the ‘other’. Assuming and speaking only to their presumed selfishness and malevolence, we make ourselves small. We become exactly the narrow minded and prejudiced enemy we deride. How ironic. Now more than ever, we need generosity. This encompasses empathy, vulnerability, sincerity, humility, and a willingness to allow the complete humanity of every person. Extending this grace to others in no way undermines my own cause. It opens my heart to attract allies from everywhere. Conviction without generosity too easily becomes tyranny; I want no part of that.
Fierce optimism choreographs an intimate dance between agitation and peace. It holds tension without anxiety, potential and kinetic energy.
When I live in Fierce Optimism, I can hang on that arc and bend it like a badass.