I find myself coming back to some of the same people over and over again when it comes to a good quote.
So much of what these people say resonates with me, causes me pause or forces me to view life in a different light, pulling me out of my own tiny world and expanding it, even briefly.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of those people.
Whenever I see this quote, from Emerson, it does exactly that:
Whenever I find myself about to reply to an inflammatory post on Facebook, I think of this.
Whenever I find myself ranting about a social situation, I think of this.
Whenever I begin to criticize the person in the car next to me, I should think of this.
I've noticed that the happier I am with myself, the less judgmental I am of others. I find that when I'm working hard, I have less time to consider how other people may be failing. I find that when I have a day well spent, when I've done my work and treated myself well and given my best to my family, I don't have so much room for negativity.
It isn't that I don't see problems in the world or that I don't hold opinions; it's just that usually negativity toward others seems to be rooted in my own feelings about myself, my life and my circumstances.
I find Emerson's words to be true, then. My opinion of the world is a confession of my character, and what I have to say about others reflects more about myself than it does about the other person. I try to remember this, too, when someone offers me his or her opinion. So little of it has to do with anyone or anything else.
That said, I don't know that we have to Pollyanna it up in order to have a solid character. There are realities in the world, and in our own lives, that won't go away simply by closing our eyes and saying nice things. There are poorly written books, readers, and they're being published at alarming rates. :)
But the starting point, the foundation, for our beliefs is perhaps the key. Do we believe the world is a fundamentally good place? Do we believe people are fundamentally good people?
Or do we think everything is going to hell-in-a-hand-basket and the world is falling apart and everyone is in it for himself?
When I lived in China, I remember sitting once on a bus. I sat next to an older Chinese man, who still wore the old Mao-style uniform, his face wrinkled and worn beneath his blue cap. A little boy sat across from us and was being naughty. I can't remember what the boy did, but suddenly the old man and I were both laughing.
Here we were, the two of us. He was old; I was young. He was Chinese; I was American. He wore a Mao-era uniform; I wore Vasque hiking boots. He was a man; I was a woman.
And we were both laughing at the same naughty little boy.
I remember thinking in that moment that maybe it all just came down to being human and everything else was a contrived difference.
It's so easy to get caught up in negativity. The world is falling apart. Humans are terrible. Leaders are ruthless. There is no hope, no point, no relevance.
It's easy to get caught up in that stinkin' thinkin' in our own personal lives as well.
I'm too old to start a new career. My kids won't ever shape up. I have flabby arms.
But what does all of that say about my character?
Though it's a little new-agey and, as a soldier once told me, 'soft science,' I do believe that what we put out into the world is usually what we get back.
So here's to seeing the good so that we can be the good.