An Optimist’s Guide to Politics

Politics and optimism seem to mix like oil and water, but formidable British statesman Winston Churchill once said, “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” Those of us with such dispositions can successfully navigate a contentious election year by clinging to some simple values most optimists hold dear to their hearts.

At the end of the day, optimists just want everyone to be happy. It’s an idea our founding fathers shared, at least in theory. The second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When optimists vote, they want nothing more than our country to keep moving towards fulfilling those promising words adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Most optimists believe good character to be the most important quality in any person, particularly someone who wishes to hold a public office. Voters who don’t care about a politician’s character, just their policies and party, are probably not optimists. Abraham Lincoln reminded us, “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Think about the personal qualities you admire and likely insist upon in the people you want in your inner circle. Before you vote, consider how well the candidates hold up against that basic measure.

Optimists have heaps of trust in their fellow citizens and in democracy itself. We have faith in the democratic process and take seriously our right and responsibility to vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote after decades of protest and civil disobedience. When we go to the polls we must keep in mind that democracy, the cornerstone of an optimistic nation, is always at stake.

At the risk of sounding like a Miss America contestant, optimists really do want world peace. George Washington said, “Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.” Here at home, we want to live in a country that’s peaceful and united in the belief that we all deserve to feel safe and respected, despite our differences. Support the candidate who wants that, too.

For those of us who like to keep things light, the next few weeks are going to be pretty heavy. Let’s stay true to our ideals of happiness, character, trust, and harmony. Don’t worry when the cynics call us dreamers, because they will. Finally, remember another thing Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

A Change of Heart

Winter allows us to witness the miracle of change in real time. Last week our cove was covered with a sheet of ice. Yesterday a caldron of steam brewed and hovered over thick gray slush. Today ducks swim and splash in crystal clear water. It’sĀ fascinating to watch the lake transform from liquid to gas to solid and back again.

The fact is, everything with mass and weight is made of matter and all matter can change. Stars and planets, butterflies and birds, rocks and rivers, you and I are all made of matter. Which means we all have the ability to change ~ a little or a lot.

Winston Churchill said, “To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

Literature is filled with dynamic characters who undergo a positive transformation. Ebenezer Scrooge, the Beast, Daddy Warbucks and everyone off to see the Wizard are just a few well-known characters who by the end of the story change for the better.

One of my favorite childhood novels is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett. A sour little girl named Mary is sent to live in a sad and lonely place. As she tends a neglected garden, joy blossoms in her own heart and in everyone’s around her.

History is marked by people whose change of heart changed the world. Rosa Parks bravely changed her mind about sitting in the back of the bus. The Apostle Paul saw the light on the road to Damascus. Abraham Lincoln’s views on the evils of slavery evolved.

Call it flip-flopping, but George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

Ordinary people can change, too. Homeboy Industries is the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world. Every year it helps thousands of former gang members become valuable citizens. Founder Father Gregory Joseph Boyle expressed the ability to help people change their lives by quoting poet Galway Kinnell, “Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness.”

Some say a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Certainly we must be wise in our interactions, but we can always leave the door open for change. We can start by looking for the loveliness in ourselves and in others. We can break our own self-defeating and hurtful habits. We can have hope that the people we care about can and will do the same.

Past injustices, political division, discouraging headlines, personal challenges, fear and pure stubbornness can make us as cold as ice. Maybe the lake’s dramatic transformation is nature’s way of reminding us to let our hearts melt a little, show grace, and have faith that we can continuously learn, grow and change into the best version of ourselves. Ā§