What did the optimist say when he jumped off the building?
“So far so good…”
– Dana Brody (played by Morgan Saylor), a character in Showtime’s Homeland series, Season 3 Episode 2 originally airing October 6, 2013 entitled Uh… Oh… Ah...
A major influence, early on in my personal and professional development, was the book The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale.
Peale’s promise, noted in the first page of the introduction, is that thinking positively has the power to prevent permitting obstacles to control your mind, and thereby controlling your decisions, your actions, and your life.
Reading this was pretty intoxicating, at a time when it was becoming apparent that the substances of the day weren’t providing sustainable highs and weren’t exactly a positive influence …
The Power of Positive Thinking positively influenced me as I navigated through adolescence into adulthood. It was also formative in how I approached work and life (and for that I am grateful).
I now, though, think — maybe not so much differently as broader; deeper — that our life experiences provide a necessary and rather fortuitous shaping for such optimism …
Positive thinking can change our mindsets and our dispositions. It may help us cope with tough times. It may even spur us on to take risky actions — actions that we otherwise might not have taken — that allow us to consequently experience success that thinking pessimistically might have aborted.
But thinking through things … projecting effects, envisioning results, seeing likely consequences — is uh… oh… ah… required. Because, at its base, optimism only influences our feeling of things, situations, circumstances.
It does not change them.
It changes us.
So the positive thinking inherent in “so far so good” as one jumps off a building doesn’t change in any way the reality of the impending injury, pain, and perhaps even death to come. It only changes how one feels during that descent to that consequence…
Now that’s sobering, yes?
Just like life is, no?
* * * * *
Distraught teenager Dana Brody tells the so far so good joke upon returning home to her family after receiving counseling following her attempted suicide. As we can only imagine, Dana and family are overwrought in having to live with the stress of being the family of an apparent American patriot-turned-terrorist responsible for a 9/11-type attack, killing hundreds.
In a subsequent scene Dana leads her mother by the hand to the site of her suicide attempt — the bathroom (now-remodeled, necessary to remove the blood-stained grout) — and emotionally implores her mother to understand her feeling then was that she no longer wanted to live; but that, now, she does!
Despite not being able to change the fact that she is the daughter of the terrorist who is the most-hated and wanted man in America.
* * * * *
We may not be able to choose prevailing circumstances.
But we can choose how we think. And, by extension, how we feel.
And, fortunately, we can choose to think through, to think about cause and effect, so we can exercise a measure of control over how we act and what we do.
And we can cope.
And, most importantly, we can learn.
Learning means we can change.
So far so good.