Some people are just born with a positive outlook, and the rest of us have to work at it. Whether you believe it is nature or nurture, the fact is, only you can make the decision about how you want to behave. There is no question, though, that a positive attitude is important when interacting with others. A good attitude takes you a long way.
THE POWER OF POSITIVITY
My secretary, Angela, is one of the most positive people I know. She is full of energy and quick with a smile—a virtual ray of sunshine. Her great attitude frequently helps her with getting things accomplished. She is from Alabama and, when required, she can charm a snake into playing dead. As a result, Angela seeks extensions, obtains courtesy copies and engages staff in opposing counsels’ offices in a way that is beyond my comprehension. In addition, she has made so many local friends. My friends call her when I am out of town to have lunch!
I have seldom seen her annoyed, and those few times it was a reaction to rude and lazy people. She has no tolerance for sloth or incompetence. While such people stick in her craw for a few moments, she quickly returns to the happy-go-lucky assistant that we know and love.
Her positive attitude also crosses over into celebrating accomplishments. When I settle a case, either as a mediator or in representing a party, she views it as a reason for celebration. Champagne for all! Birthdays and holidays are likewise acknowledged and celebrated with a good meal and good friends.
All of this positive energy has made me more aware of how others look at things. A few months ago, I wrote a column about my Bikram yoga practice. I have an instructor who, when we reach the midpoint in the session, is in the habit of saying, “Now the real yoga begins” because we are going to start on the floor series. Perhaps he is being facetious, but I have to tell you that after 45 minutes of sweating and straining to get into various contorted postures, the last thing you want to hear is the suggestion that the easy part is over—and now it is going to get harder. Because, really, it does not get harder from there.
After a year of listening to him say this, and suppressing a grumble inside each time, we had a guest instructor for a few months who would say at the end of the standing series, “Now the hard part is over.” It’s surprising how much of an impact something as simple as word choice can make on the mind-set of a student. It reminds me of the old adage that people tend to perceive a glass at 50 percent capacity as either half full or half empty. Saying “Now we are getting to the real yoga” is very half empty, while saying “The hard part is over” is very half full.
DECIDING WHO YOU ARE GOING TO BE
I confess to having a glass-half-empty worldview. I don’t trust easily and tend to be suspicious of people’s motives. I blame it on the “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” mentality. While I aspire to be more happy-go-lucky, it does not come easily for me. All the same, I believe that each of us ultimately has control over our own emotions and our own destiny. We, as individuals, have to decide what sort of person we want to be—and then be that person.
Being a glass-half-empty person, I have to work hard at being more positive, more glass-half-full. In fact, in the instances where my instinctive reaction is a positive one, I am more surprised than anyone. In the usual order of things, my first reaction skews toward the negative and suspicious. Upon introspection, I have to reformulate my response to make it more positive and friendly, which in itself takes energy.
I was once involved in a program for local elected officials called the Good Government Initiative. It was a six-month program that addressed budgeting, marketing, media, ethics and all the things that you need to know to be an effective elected official. At the end of the program, we had exit interviews and were asked how we felt. I told the interviewer, completely honestly, that I felt depressed. It was depressing to understand how corrupt local and state government could be. Somehow, I don’t think that was the answer they were looking for.
INTERACTING WITH OTHERS
Even though I am hard-wired to be glass-half-empty, I still have to decide how I am going to approach every situation. I am the master of my own destiny. I know this and I work at approaching a situation with a positive attitude. It does not always work, and it has made me realize that other people might not be glass-half-full people either. So when someone is negative or short with me, I don’t get upset or angry. I take it in stride, never personally. A well-worn quote attributed to many but believed to originate with Rev. John Watson has it, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” For all I know, a person who has been negative with me may have a parent who is dying, her relationship could be breaking apart, or he may be perched precariously on the brink of financial ruin. Compared to trials like those, any problems I might face seem trivial.
As the late Dr. Stephen Covey urged in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, “Seek first to understand, and then to be understood.” When presented with a situation, wait a beat before attaching your own significance to it. Allow for the possibility that you don’t have every piece of the puzzle.