Albert Einstein once said, “The most important question you can ever ask is whether or not the world is a friendly place.”
What he meant by that is, do you wake up in the morning expecting to have to fight? Do you believe that the world and those around you are trying to steal from you, cheat you, hurt you? That walls are necessary and you’re a sucker if you don’t strike first?
Or do you wake up expecting that, at its core, the world and the people who inhabit it are well-intentioned, kind, and that beauty, abundance and benevolence are the default conditions?
I was out for the regular early morning walk with my beautiful wife the other day. It was one of those perfect Georgia spring mornings – warm sunshine, blue sky, low humidity, birds singing and the magnolias beginning to blossom.
About halfway through the walk a man crossed our path. We called a ‘good morning!’ greeting and he came back with a huge smile and called out, “It’s a beautiful day in our neighborhood!” That made us both smile as we instantly recognized the reference from the beloved Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood TV show that brought delight and comfort to so many from the late, great Fred Rogers.
Our newly encountered friend obviously made the connection too as he quickly followed with, “Won’t you be my neighbor?,” which made us both giggle.
But then the judgmental, disapproving grown-up in him took over and he said, “Did I actually say that out loud?” and went on down the sidewalk.
Personally, I was both impressed and delighted that a 60-something man would come out with such a warm and friendly greeting to a pair of complete strangers. I didn’t find it strange, inappropriate or silly at all. Instead, I found it heart-warming and uplifting. Yet, his reaction showed that he was a little embarrassed by his spontaneous and joyful outburst.
Why do we judge ourselves harshly for being joyful?
Gail and I spend a lot of time in airports, and they provide some of the best people-watching opportunities around. When it comes to classifying those we observe, we have two favorites – the under-seven’s and the ‘Joyful Ones.’ Both are rare species.
The under-seven’s are those sparkly children who are so full of life and joy and wonder that they’re completely oblivious to those around them. They skip and jump and dance down the concourse, jiving to some happy music that the rest of us only wish we could hear. I watched one the other day who was practicing cartwheels in the boarding lounge! I laughed out loud with delight!
The Joyful Ones also make us feel great. These are the folks whose faces, body language and general vibe give away the fact that there’s something going on inside that has chosen to tune out the incessant CNN sadness blaring from the monitors. Could be an elderly couple holding hands as they make their way to their connecting gate. Could be a person walking alone, but with an unconscious smile on her face. Or a couple of businessmen, laughing as they share a joke.
Why does a grown man feel embarrassed by calling out a joyful greeting? Why do I never see anyone over seven practicing cartwheels in a boarding lounge? Why do I have to look so hard to find someone who is actually smiling? Why do we feel so self-conscious about being spontaneous and joyful?
It’s easy to claim that it’s hard (even foolish?) to be joyful when the world is such a dreadful place. How can anyone be joyful in the face of terrorism, climate change, raging partisanship and uncertain economies? It’s easy to quote Thomas Hobbes who claimed that life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
Well, Tom was just plain wrong because the basis of life is joy. But you have to choose it. In every moment we must consciously, courageously choose to stand out from the crowd and be joyful.
So here’s your challenge on this Fearless Friday: Smile. When you walk down the street, think about something that makes you happy and see what happens to your face. Think about someone you love and feel your mouth start to turn upwards. Think about a time when you accomplished a big goal and feel that pride swelling in your chest.
I’m not asking for cartwheels in the boarding lounge, but I’d love to count you among the Joyful Ones today.
A 12-month-old baby knows a lot about failure. Every time she lets go of the coffee table to attempt a step or two – thump! Failed again. Of course the easiest way for our cute little one to avoid failure is to give up on the idea of walking. It would be so much easier to just sit and let Mom bring the bottle.
There are a couple of reasons why that toddler keeps trying. First, the world looks pretty big and exciting and you can cover a lot more ground on two feet than on all fours, so it’s worth the effort. But more importantly, she hasn’t yet got the memo that failure is a bad thing. There’s no shame in falling on your butt when you’re 12 months old. In fact we grown-ups think it’s pretty darn cute.
But by the time we’ve grown up, been formally educated, got a job and taken responsibility for ourselves, our family, our children… they’ve managed to thoroughly convince us that failure is the worst possible option, to be avoided at all costs. And that’s when most growth and learning stops.
Most people I meet spend an inordinate effort to avoid failure of any kind. Which, don’t get me wrong, is a pretty good idea when you’re flying a plane or doing heart surgery. But it’s a major obstacle when you’re trying to grow as a person. By assiduously avoiding failure, we also avoid innovation, creativity, growth and breakthrough thinking. We stay carefully in the rut we occupy and discourage looking from side to side.
Those people, on the other hand, that we all respect and wish we could be like, well they encourage, embrace and endure failure on their way to the successes the rest of us admire. And the faster they fail, the quicker they grow.
Wanna fail faster?
That toddler knows far more about failure than you or I do and she’s not afraid of it. That’s why she learns faster, grows quicker and laughs more often. When was the last time you were glad you fell on your ass?
There’s a cute little movie from 2006 starring Queen Latifah called ‘Last Holiday’ in which she plays a shy, unassuming store clerk. She longs to be a professional chef and records her dreams of a better life in a journal labeled, "Possibilities." But rather than stepping up to her possibilities, she carefully saves her money for that rainy day, never colors outside the lines and lives a drab, unfulfilling life. When she’s diagnosed with a fatal illness and given just a few weeks to live, she liquidates her savings and embarks on her dream vacation.
The problems of the world are too large, too complex for me to even comprehend, let alone contribute to a solution.
What am I supposed to do about global warming? Drive a Prius and the ice sheets will stop melting? Recycle my plastic soda bottles and the fires in California will go away? Hardly.
Henry Ford, one of the great innovators of the last century, once famously said, “Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.” In other words, the only obstacle to your success is your firm belief that the odds that are stacked against you are insurmountable.
The world we inhabit today is vastly different than the one we lived in yesterday. The rules have changed dramatically and it makes a lot of us uncomfortable.
When we’re born we come pre-programmed with two, and only two fears: The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. After that, anything that makes you fearful, anxious or in doubt about yourself is learned or conditioned. And with every new bogeyman, we dream less, we hesitate more and the sphere of our infinite potential shrinks.
Some fears are downright useful – hot stoves, hungry tigers, high-voltage wires. These are the “Oh crap! That bus is about to hit me!” kind of scared and they’re just smart survival instincts.