A Journey Towards Positivity

George Bernard Shaw famously said “You see things; and you say “Why?” But I dream things that never were; and I say “Why not?”. Sadly, I think that my natural inclination is to dream things that never were; and say “that looks dangerous”.

I’m not, I think, a very positive person by nature. I was a lawyer in a previous life, so was a member of one of the glummest professions around, eagerly seeking out the traps in every situation. Perhaps I’m not quite at the level of Marvin the Paranoid Android in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series, whose philosophy can be summed up in the quote “just when you think life can’t possibly get any worse it suddenly does”, but I know where he’s coming from. An old family friend used to love mis-quoting Shelley – “If Winter comes, can Winter be far behind?” he’d say. Makes sense to me sometimes.

Someone described me as a catastrophist, seeing the endless possibilities there are for things to go belly up. Perhaps I’m being a little bit flippant but it is certainly true that in some parts of my life I’m a glass half empty kind of guy. The cynic in me sometimes looks at very positive people and laughs inwardly at their naïve, simplistic, Pollyanna approach to life. But what if it is actually me that has the naïve and simplistic life view and they that are right?

As I’ve been involved in the LIFT initiative over the last 18 months, this is an aspect of my personality that has been regularly challenged. One of the 8 LIFT leadership themes that was identified by our Coyne Research independent national survey was Positive Attitude. In the LIFT materials that accompany this theme there is one paragraph, in particular, that always makes me stop and think:

Having a positive attitude does not mean that we are always happy about everything that happens. We all deal with difficult and painful things at times. However, by being aware that we control our attitude, we can make sure that we are not defeated by our problems and pain. A positive attitude allows us to focus on what we can do, rather than on our inabilities or loss of control.

Is it simple to take this approach when things go wrong in our lives? Actually, it’s far easier to look to find where the blame lies, to say there’s nothing to be done, to feel like a helpless victim, which is the cynic’s choice. Choosing to take a positive attitude is a much harder road to travel – it requires me to take ownership of my situation, to say “this is where I am; what will I do now?”.

None of us has a perfect life; and even if we are lucky enough to have good health, a roof over our heads and sufficient food to eat, the reality is that every person has his or her difficulties. The challenge for each of us, is to decide how we choose to deal with them. I’ve been working hard on my positive attitude. Not trying to go about with a smile on my face (which isn’t what a positive attitude is really about), but rather, being pragmatic and trying to focus on possibilities even where the reality is difficult. Relatively recently there have been some situations that perhaps in the past would have led me towards feelings of blackness. However, I have chosen instead to hold onto the belief that things could improve, and I have worked as hard as I could to try to improve them. So far, at least, it’s working.


Everyone has a story

I’m not much of a gardener. I like looking at a nice garden; and having a place where my kids can kick a ball and (when they were younger) play with their friends, but I don’t really want to spend much time working to keep it looking good. It had reached the point a couple of weeks ago where the grass and weeds combination that makes up my lawn had grown past shin height. I needed professional help so I called a gardener who occasionally comes to fix things up for us.

Pat is in his late 60s now. He works on his own. He has a small number of loyal customers who keep him busy throughout the Summer months mainly. He walks and talks slowly, pulling weeds with his bare hands, pushing a wheelbarrow that looks as old as himself. But he gets through an incredible amount of work in a short time. I’ve never been able to work out how he does it all.

I was talking to him this week before he went off to his next job. During our conversation he told me that the previous day he had spent an hour and a half chasing a cow that had jumped an electric fence from one of his fields into a neighbouring corn field to reach the top field where some other cows already were – she could see them and, being part of a herd, she wanted to be with them and she brought half the fence with her.

He told me about the few cows that he has – how he brought three of them to the mart but made the mistake of being number 1 in the sales queue. The first lot apparently might have a few ‘jobbing’ buyers (who are looking to buy and sell quickly to turn a profit) but fewer real farming buyers – and while early sellers are allowed to go back into the sale later, if a lorry-load of cattle come in as one of the other lots, he might have to wait for a few hours to get to sell them.

He mentioned that he was happy with the price he got, but was disappointed with the weight of the cows – they were lighter than he thought and had they been 500kg it would have been worth maybe an extra €100 to him.

He talked about how last year he had been lucky – one of his garden customers had a field of grass and offered it to him as hay and silage in April. Pat took it off his hands and as things turned out, the dry Summer meant that he was one of the minority that had plenty of good quality feed through the Winter.

He said that he might retire from the gardening side of things in a few years time, but he doesn’t know if anyone will take his business over. He doesn’t know if there’s a business there for someone young with a family. He does it to keep himself busy and to make ‘a few pounds’ through the Summer.

His life is based around working hard, doing things he loves for as long as he feels he can do them, and quietly developing a mastery and a knowledge about the land and living on it, that is light years beyond me.  

I mention all of this only because I hadn’t really spoken to Pat properly before, even though he has been coming to us twice a year for maybe 10 years. Pat was ‘the gardener’ to me. Yet 15 minutes spent in his company made me realise that he has experiences, knowledge, ability and expertise that I will never have. I am richer for having talked with him, even for that brief time. It’s easy to assume that you know someone’s story – it’s far more rewarding to actually listen to them telling it.