Tag Archives: Hope

Cynicism – It Saps Our Inventiveness; It Withers Our Souls

We are very weary right now.  The news is bad, depressing…  The problems immense, the solutions seem elusive.

I think we need inspiration.  We definitely need robust souls, and a hefty dose of inventiveness.  And I think that we need to fight cynicism as though it were our deadliest enemy.

An oft-quoted criticism against cynics is that they only point out problems without offering solutions.  I think it goes deeper, and is more problematic than that:  they point out problems, and wallow in problems, and believe that no one can find solutions.

If America is anything it is a place where we have always believed that we can – we will – find solutions.

I have posted often about the great collection of speeches in Willaim Safire’s Lend Me Your Ears.  Today, I was re-reading Al Gore’s 1994 Harvard Commencement Address from that volume.  (Safire was a conservative, but his collection is very balanced).  Throughout the volume, Safire writes what he likes about the speeches that he selected for this volume.  Safire said about this speech:

On June 9, 1994, Gore made the most profound speech of his vice-presidency, examining the loss of trust in government that has afflicted his generation.

Here are brief excerpts from Gore’s speech.

History is a precarious source of lessons. Nevertheless, I am reminded that similar serious economic problems prevailed in Athens in the 4th century B.C., when the philosophical school we now know as Cynicism was born. The Cynics were fed up with their society and its social conventions and wanted everybody to know it. The root of the word “cynic” is the same as the Greek word for “dog,”and some scholars say the Cynics got their name because they barked at society.

Cynicism is deadly. It bites everything it can reach — like a dog with a foot caught in a trap. And then it devours itself. It drains us of the will to improve; it diminishes our public spirit; it saps our inventiveness; it withers our souls.

I think this is a theme for this time.  Our country, (our world), our companies and organizations, are in great need of leaders who believe that a brighter tomorrow is in fact possible, and attainable.

We know of all the CEO’s who slash and burn with cutbacks and layoffs – all understandable, but at the same time “demoralizing” (literally, sapping the morale out of countless people).  We need the opposite of demoralizing leaders.  We need to label cynicism as the enemy, and elevate and follow leaders who say that it is still possible.

At least, that’s what I am looking for.


You can read Gore’s speech here.  — And Amazon has used copies of this great Safire compilation for under $5.00, including shipping.  It is a great collection — a book to read slowly.

“optimism” – a short post, maybe a big lesson

News Item – New York’s MetroCards have the word “optimism” printed on the back of the card.

Artist Reed Seifer, whose work called Optimism is on the back of Metrocards

From the New York Times article The Days May Be Grim, but Here’s a Good Word to Put in Your Pocket:

On the back of seven million MetroCards distributed this fall is a single printed word: “optimism.” Composed in clean, bold, sans-serif letters, it floats in a sea of white just beneath the boilerplate fine print. Another seven million are on the way early next year.

Riders and reporters were not informed when the word began appearing on MetroCards in September. The point, Reed Seifer (the card’s designer) said, was for it to be intimate, a serendipitous discovery for the viewer. “It exists between the card and the person who receives the card,” he said.

As he designed the card, Mr. Seifer said, he did not take into account the small hole punched along the left edge of every MetroCard. In a happy accident, the hole lined up perfectly with the word, becoming a kind of period.

Mr. Seifer found this appropriate: “Optimism is about openings where people don’t expect to find them.”

I read this just shortly after I posted Accentuate the Positive — Johnny Mercer’s Anthem for Difficult Days, reflecting on the need to be a little more optimistic.

Maybe we are in need of just such an outlook in these difficult days.

Accentuate the Positive — Johnny Mercer’s Anthem for Difficult Days

Johnny Mercer

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene

— Johnny Mercer

On the Wednesday, November 18 broadcast of NPR’s Fresh Air, Terry Gross had a wonderful concert of Johnny Mercer music.  This would have been Mercer’s 100th birthday. Lyricist and composer Johnny Mercer — born Nov. 18, 1909, in Savannah, Ga. — wrote or co-wrote more than 1,000 songs, including American Songbook standards like “Skylark,” “That Old Black Magic” and “Come Rain or Come Shine,” and “Moon River.”  You can read about and listen to this particular program, here.  I promise you, it’s worth it.  (This program was worth my entire year’s membership to KERA)

Johnny Mercer died in 1976. Fresh Air marks the 100th anniversary of his birth with an in-studio concert starring Rebecca Kilgore and Dave Frishberg.

During the opening medley of Mercer music, they performed a portion of this terrific song:

Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive
– Words and Music by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer

Gather ’round me, everybody
Gather ’round me while I’m preachin’
Feel a sermon comin’ on me
The topic will be sin and that’s what I’m ag’in’
If you wanna hear my story
The settle back and just sit tight
While I start reviewin’
The attitude of doin’ right

You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
And latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium’s
Liable to walk upon the scene

To illustrate my last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do just when everything looked so dark?

(Man, they said “We’d better accentuate the positive”)
(“Eliminate the negative”)
(“And latch on to the affirmative”)
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between (No!)
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between

(Ya got to spread joy up to the maximum)
(Bring gloom down to the minimum)
(Have faith or pandemonium’s)
(Liable to walk upon the scene)

You got to ac (yes, yes) -cent-tchu-ate the positive
Eliminate (yes, yes) the negative
And latch (yes, yes) on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, don’t mess with Mister In-Between

I have been reading books, and reviews of books, and posting about books (for example, this post from just this morning), that talk about what went wrong, and how deep a hole we’ve dug for ourselves.

And, I admit that just looking on the bright side of life does not fix the problems.

But I found myself captivated by this set of lyrics, thinking what a great message for us all in these difficult days.  Maybe we do need to “Accentuate the Positive” at least a little.  No, I am not recommending blind optimism — or blind anything.  But I do think that if we see some solutions to pursue, we ought to believe that they have a chance to work as we pursue them.

By the way, this Mercer song was written in 1944 – a pretty tough time for this country, and our world, as we were in the midst of World War II, and we really did not know how it was going to turn out.

Last night, I spoke for a group of sharp and connected women.  Two months ago, to the same group, I presented my synopsis of the book The Coming Generational Storm.  One woman said “I hope tonight’s book is more hopeful – more optimistic.”

Well, I agree.  I think I need to remind myself that I should, pretty regularly, ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE…

Thanks, Terry Gross, for a terrific hour of radio – and to Johnny Mercer, for this wonderful reminder of the power of hope and optimism.

Be bold – ask for what you want!

Cheryl offers: Our business, like so many others, has enjoyed the affects of the economy. You know I use the word “enjoyed” with a smile here.  We recently decided to sit back and look at our business activity to see what we noticed. It was pretty apparent. We weren’t asking for enough business. Now this is embarrassing to admit, since we both spent a fair amount of our careers in sales. It occurs to me how easily it is to slip into what I might call “complacency habits”.  A good economy helps you do that. We also reminded ourselves of the research in the book, “Women Don’t Ask” by Sarah Laschever and Linda Babcock. “Wanting things for oneself (like business deals if you are an entrepreneur) and doing whatever may be necessary to get those things-such as asking for them-often clashes with the social expectation that a woman will devote her attention to the needs of others and pay less attention to her own.”  As a result of this well spent time in contemplation, we began to proactively ASK different questions. Amazingly, business is emerging from conversations almost every day. Thank goodness. Now I wonder, “What else have I become complacent about that the new economy might help me remember?”

Sara adds:   Could be questions…could be courage.  When I read what Cheryl offered, I thought of Richard Carson’s, “Taming Your Gremlins.”   Carson helps explain the voice in my head.  You know the one, the one that says, “You should be happy with what you have” or “Don’t ask for too much, you probably aren’t worth it.”   For me, it that voice that what keeps me from asking for the business and following up aggressively.  Carson explains, “Your gremlin is the narrator in your head…he uses some of your past experiences to hypnotize you into forming and living your life in accordance with self-limiting and sometimes frightening generalizations about you.”  No wonder Carson calls it a gremlin!  But there’s hope!  The first step in stilling the voice is in becoming AWARE that it’s just a voice. Then bring in the courage.  The voice would hold us back.  Courage puts the voice in the background and action in the foreground.  Wondering how to make that happen?   Join us next week – we’ll talk about overcoming our own status quo!

“Up” Phrases and Ebert’s Concept of “Elevation” — Thanks, Bob

Bob Morris and I talk occasionally about how we feel, at times, that we are almost simply talking to each other on this blog.  But we know that there are many others reading what we write, and that group is growing.  So – to all of you, welcome to our conversation.

Recently, Bob wrote of the value of positive words over negative words in his post, “Q#199:  What are “up” words and phrases?”  I especially enjoyed this post, agreed with it (though I do not always practice it), and want to add this thought.  It reminded me of a terrific post by Roger Ebert entitled I feel good!  I knew that I would.  In it, Ebert reflects on what the best movies do for us.  He labels this desirable quality “Elevation.”  Here is his key paragraph:”

If I were a film producer hoping to make a movie with deep appeal, I would consciously look for Elevation–remembering that it seems to come not through messages or happy endings or sad ones, but in moments when characters we believe in–even an animated robot garbageman–achieve something good. I have observed before that we live in a box of space and time, and movies can open a window in the box. One human life, closely observed, is everyone’s life. In the particular is the universal. Empathy is the feeling that most makes us human. Elevation may be the emotion caused when we see people giving themselves up, if only for a moment, to caring about others.

Caring about others, depicted well in a movie, elevates us all.  I thought of Ebert’s review of The Postman, a “flop” at the box office, but a real exercise in elevation. In his review, he wrote:

There are those who will no doubt call The Postman the worst film of the year, but it’s too good-hearted for that…  parables like this require their makers to burn their bridges and leave common sense behind: Either they work (as Forrest Gump did), in which case everyone involved is a genius, or they don’t–in which case you shouldn’t blame them for trying.  And… the Postman becomes a symbol for the survivors in their struggling communities. “You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket,” a young woman tells him.

I think we feel the same about all of our interactions, at work, in our families, everywhere…  We want to hope.  We want to care.  We want to dispense (“give out”) hope, and see others doing so.  And we respond so very favorably when that happens to us, to another, and even by us.  This is the idea behind the “up” words and phrases.  We actually hope that the “up” words speak of a true “up” intent, and outcome.  We long to be elevated.