The Courage to Look for the Positive

Igniting Courage Podcast Episode 48

I just finished watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the documentary about Mr. Rogers.  First of all, great movie, everyone should watch it.  I felt the calm comfort that I used to feel when I watched his show, but from a more intellectual place.

But I was also amazed at the people who were against him.  So many people had the belief that there had to be something “wrong” with him.  He was so unusually positive and lovely and loving, that people needed to believe there was something amiss.

“Is he gay?” of course this was during a time when being gay wasn’t as accepted as it is today, but to those haters, he was probably either gay, or had impure thoughts about kids.

People protested his funeral because of some reason or another related to God.  I couldn’t even understand that part.

People accused him of ruining the generation, of telling them they’re all special and making a generation of entitled individuals.  One show isn’t going to do that.  The parents need to look at the daily and hourly exposure their children had, rather than a periodic TV show.

But all these people, I believe they were afraid, which led them to attack him.  What were they afraid of?  Why did there have to be something wrong with him, or manipulative about what he was doing?

I think there are a few reasons.

First of all, because we know too much, especially these days.  Through the magic of the internet and the power of 24 hour news stations, we see every child abduction, every school shooting, every murderer on the loose, every terrorist attack sensationalized and splashed through our news feed over and over.  Among the 7.5 billion people on the planet, we see the worst of that…repeatedly.

Also, because of our own experience.  We’ve all been hurt.  We’ve all had difficult experiences that weren’t fair, or right, and felt like crap, and we play that on the 24-hour news station in our heads.  Over and over we remind ourselves of our hurts.

And we start to believe that everyone is out to get us.

Does all that bad stuff happen in the world?  Absolutely!  Is it perfectly logical for us to be wary of trusting anyone?  Sure, it’s logical, but it’s ruining our ability to see the good.

I lead expeditions to Malawi in southern Africa, and people say, “Aren’t you afraid?”  and I quickly and honestly reply,  “Absolutely not.”  With all the traveling I do all over this country, I am just as likely for something bad to happen to me in Malawi as I am for something bad to happen in Detroit or Bloomington, IN or Traverse City, MI where I live.  There are “bad” people everywhere.

And there are even more GOOD People.  EVERYWHERE. And a lot more of them. 

The concept of assuming positive intent is one I’ve been noodling over for a while.  I believe that most of the people I meet want the same things I do.  They want a roof over their heads, for their loved ones to be happy and healthy, to feel safe and fed and have hope for their future.  I believe we are all doing the best we can.

Does that mean I walk around hugging people at 2am on the streets of Baltimore?  No.  Does that mean I meet people on the internet and get in their cars with them to go off “to dinner”?  Absolutely not.  There’s a difference between assuming good in people, and handing myself over to them, and putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation.

There’s a difference between being appropriately self-aware and looking for the bad in everyone.

If my neighbor, who I haven’t met yet stops to say hello, I’m not going to automatically assume they’re going to try to sell me Tupperware or get into my house to steal my stereo system.  Maybe they’re just saying hello.  I may not let them in, and if they start peeking around, and casing the joint, I’ll take a different tack, but until they give me a reason to, I’m just going to assume they’re a nice neighborly person.

If a man (or woman) in a bar approaches me to talk, I’m not going to automatically assume they want to take me home, tie me to the wall and whip me with al dente fettuccini.  I will be polite and engage in friendly conversation.  If they do happen to offer the fettuccini bit, I can politely say “no thanks, I like my pasta fully cooked” and move on with my evening.

If I’m walking through the grocery store with my much beloved nieces and nephew, and someone says hello and asks if we like Cookie Crisp, because he’s thinking of buying it for his grandkids, I’m not going to assume he wants to steal the children.  I’m not going to hand them over to him to help him with the rest of his shopping, but we can engage in a friendly and supervised conversation, and then wish him luck, smile and get on with our shopping, feeling good about a friendly connection we made with a kind stranger.

The point is, there are more good people than bad in the world.  If we go into interactions looking for the good, we’re more likely to see it.  If we go into every interaction looking for someone to take advantage of us and hurt us, we’re never going to open ourselves to the wonderful humans that surround us, and the connections that make daily life on this planet just a little more tolerable.

Living in fear is no way to live.  We have to have the courage to see the positive possibilities, and we’re much more likely to see the wonderful things that are happening all around us, because they are, every moment.


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