I am an optimist.  Over the last several months I have been reflecting on what this means and how it is shaping how I manage during these inexplicable times, on both personal life challenges, but also what I see as existential questions about community, society, culture.

My optimism is an emotional tool that helps me to believe in and seek a better path forward.  This ranges from always wanting to see the best in a person, as well as always looking for the upside of a situation.  This is not to be confused with having rose colored glasses.  I understand and see reality and problems.  I look for a better answer and for others who believe in hope.  Yet, my belief that people will act with an intention for good, and with integrity beyond what is right for themselves, but right for the greater good has been tested.  Again, both personally and existentially.

When an optimist is challenged by the reality of human actions based in fear, hate, narcissism and self-preservation, it tests our core belief that good exits.  I have felt devastated over the news of mass killings, assassination attempts, of voter suppression, and oppression, of our global environmental crises, asylum seekers being separated from their children…and yes dot dot dot.   I am also saddened by the everyday behavior I see in people lacking the ability to pause in their hurried lives to say hello and just be nice.  Or the quick to judge comments on facebook and twitter posts without wondering, “is there more to this conversation”?  I am sometimes that person.

I am much more deeply worried about a world where we are seeing unprecedented suicide rates in teenagers, especially girls.  Our children!  Feeling so much anxiety, and feeling so alone they have no hope…

And I wonder how did this happen?

I don’t sleep as much.

I am anxious.

When the amygdala takes over even an optimist sinks to survival mode.  When hope seems extinguished, and cynicism starts to crowd in it feels overwhelming and dark.  Hopeless.  Alone.  And I, the optimist fight the rising need to wrap myself in a self-preservation blanket.

Except there is no warmth in that blanket.  It serves no one, not even me.  It is based in fear, and triggers fight, flight, freeze. Fear wins!

Here is the thing about an optimist.  We may overlook the bad signs for a while.  But we don’t ignore them entirely.  And when the cynicism begins we may allow ourselves to feel like a victim, but not for long.  We eventually figure out a way to harness the energy and resources to take a step forward until we can feel the wind on our back that supports us to move forward effortlessly.  And then we share that wind with others, lifting us to a stronger and more energized space.

The strength of optimism is getting up the next day and using the energy of this amazing competency to power hope again.  I will not curl up, I will rise up.  I will vote.

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