Coping with Chaos: Part 3 of 3
Creating A Balanced Outlook
By Dr. Robert Leichtman
We need a balanced view about the multitude of our good, bad, and routine experiences. Some of us tend to selectively concentrate on the presence of difficult events while taking for granted the pleasant and successful experiences. When we sort out what happens to us in this manner, we risk the possibility of a progressive decline into pessimism, self-pity, or bitterness. The significance of a pessimistic outlook is that it will tend to miss or fail to appreciate our strengths, abilities, and what we achieve with them. When we highlight the difficult situations and unpleasant events in our life, we are on the path to becoming a full-time cynic who too often discounts good potentials and successful accomplishments—both in ourself and society. We need to cultivate a balanced and healthy outlook that embraces and respects constructive qualities and achievements wherever and whenever they are present.
The importance of our point of view
An old philosopher once said, “I can complain because rose bushes have thorns, or I can rejoice because thorn bushes have roses. It’s all how you look at it.” Much of life depends on our point of view. Are we highlighting the thorns or at the roses in our life?
One of great issues each of us has to confront is how shall we manage in our life the mixture of difficult experiences with pleasant experiences or losses with our successes?
Are we able to draw sufficient nourishment and strength from our good experiences to compensate for the distress from our bad ones?
Do we concentrate on our annoying situations to the exclusion of most of our satisfying situations?
Have we developed an obsession about the thorns in our life?
Or do we align ourself with the rose type of situations and appreciate their value and how they provide a sense of balance for the thorns in our life?
Some of us have difficulty tolerating the smallest of thorns in their life, and worse, they regard most of the pleasant situations only as what they deserve and expect. We fail to have any gratitude for them. This inequity can leave us quite miserable, and it leads to suffering that can be resolved only as we make major adjustments in our perspectives and attitude.
The wrong way to manage our distress
Some will try to manage their distress about too many “thorny experiences” by concentrating on avoiding all difficult people and situations. Unfortunately, what they seek to avoid often finds them anyway. Others are so extreme in the manner they restrict their interactions with people and events that they also limit their possibilities of enjoyment. The common result is they remain safe, but it is an insulated existence with little satisfaction or fulfillment.
Those who find themselves in these predicaments will benefit from new methods for achieving a more balanced view of life. This search can begin with the idea that we all want to be known by the good in us and the good we do.
Even though we are quite aware of our faults and failures, we want others to evaluate us by our mature qualities, knowledge, and skills such as:
compassion and faith
courage and endurance
and what we have achieved with their use in our lifestyle.
It is not enough to congratulate ourselves on
the thorns we bear
the suffering we have endured
the sacrifices we have made.
If these situations dominate our thinking, we will end up being trapped full-time in misery
viewing our past with bitterness
and our present with self-pity
and our future with despair.
While many can justify some aspects of these perspectives, such views dishonor our spiritual possibilities and anchor us to perpetual suffering. Not a smart thing to do.
Taking charge of our emotional reactions
It should be clear that we have the power to choose whether to concentrate on the thorns in our life or to give extra attention to the rose type of experiences and situations. For some, this choice is frequently challenged when the morbid lure of self-pity and resentment seek to convert us to be the perpetual victim who dwells in constant mourning for what has been lost or never achieved.
While many such individuals act as if their suffering is compelled by dreadful outer situations, there is no law that demands that we respond in this manner. We can meet loss, failure, defeat, and insult with understanding, patience, and tolerance. We can draw the presence of any thorns in our life into the greater context of all our greater strengths. These are the resources that are available in our higher human nature and our higher self.
A mindfulness of these potentials helps us to comprehend that the present—however grim—is never the entire story of our life. There are always the deeper and noble parts of our life that can provide the means for recovery and renewal.
How confident and strong we are is often determined more by our convictions and expectations than our actual experiences. Our beliefs will filter what we notice, see, and take into our awareness. The dedicated cynic can turn the best successes and compliments into a sham. The constant critic can find fault in anything. Satisfaction is unlikely for either.
Looking at life through our wounds or our strengths
Those who develop a grievance consciousness tend to highlight the negative factors of suffering and ignore or never notice the positive events and situations. Such views distort what we see and support the assumption that our world is hostile and hopeless.
These are the individuals who tend to notice mainly the insults and put-downs from those who dislike us. This will result in the continual collection of negative information and energies. If we add to this the tendency to take for granted our own successes and the support of our friends, then we will fail to be nourished by constructive forces that can neutralize the negative influences. This is why it is important to give deliberate and graceful notice to:
the real kindness of our friends
the value of what we do
and how both continually validate our worth.
While some situations in our life are grim—even soul-crushing—most of us have many experiences worthy of our praise as well as those that increase our despair and distrust. We often use a dysfunctional methods for sorting out our experiences.
When bad things occur, we often wonder why this could happen to us?
We are concerned whether we missed key warning signs.
We question what is so wrong about other people.
And we wonder why our life so difficult for us?
This focus of attention, of course, reinforces an obsession about bad experiences as well as our suffering. Those who assume this is a realistic and appropriate way to view our life experiences need to consider what we are failing to do. We need to examine how we sort out our good experiences. Do we:
regard them only as what is supposed to happen and therefore not remarkable?
fail to wonder why good things happen to us with the same intensity we wonder about bad situations?
appreciate how this pessimistic focus of attention can cause an imbalance in our life?
ever consider that this a perspective we want to correct?
A model for what to do versus what not to do
Let’s consider a real-life example of how the views of those who keep looking for the thorns in life differ from those who find the equivalent of roses in life. Suppose we look at typical eight-year old children and observe that they:
are awkward—move in a clumsy manner and cannot dance
behave with the manners of an eight-year old
are a poor reader—can’t do any complex math
have no job, no income, and still live with parents.
However, they have all the potentials for achieving these things—especially with a little help and encouragement from us.
If we harshly criticize such a child for being ignorant, unskilled, and still dependent on support of parents, this would be considered child abuse.
Think about this when you decide to condemn:
some person or situation that annoys you
a person or group that is always blaming others for their problems
someone who is too demanding and rude
a dishonest person who frequently exploit others.
It is likely that our poisonous attitudes of outrage and contempt will generate only more conflict and abuse.
Becoming what we hate
The greater risk of expressing contempt and anger to often is that we can become what we hate or fear. For some, this can result in being an angry, bitter, and frustrated person who is depressed and frequently alienated from people and society.
Constructive attitudes and activities for these situations will be along different lines of values, thought, and attitudes—similar to what we would provide for that clumsy, ignorant eight-year old are needed.
We need to understand that our annoyance and discontent can congeal into permanent skepticism. Our gloom, fears, and anger about legitimate problems can so distort our perceptions that we overlook most of the favorable aspects of society. Many of us become so obsessed about what is wrong or missing that we begin to contribute to the poisons of fear, distrust, and alienation that are already hindering progress at both personal and societal levels.
Turning the tide of our gloom
Although cynicism is popular today, there are excellent reasons to strive to lead a life that is graced with goodwill, integrity, accountability, and constructive behaviors. This begins with our ability to notice and appreciate our good experiences, successes, and triumphs. These are the signs that life is often good to us and provides balance and compensation for the rough patches.
It is unfortunate that many of us neglect to appreciate how much we can contribute to our well-being by making a positive contribution to society. Much of this occurs simply by the demonstration of our:
capacity to keep our promises and take responsibility
courage and endurance in following our noble purposes
ability to be kind and helpful to those in our immediate presence
taking a stand for noble values and speaking up when appropriate
seeking to cooperate with the design and plan of our higher self.
The guiding principle here is this. If we all do well in whatever role we play (parent, spouse, worker, employer, helper, etc.) we can demonstrate our virtues in these endeavors.
This is one of the ways each of us can radiate the energies of our virtues and make our contribution to society.
This is how we safely and gently change the world one person at a time.
This is how it is done. Not by joining a bunch of people with major grievances who specialize in outrage and protest.
Healthy change is achieved by demonstrating our mature values and behavior where we have opportunity and authority to do so.
The primary way to sustain our cheerfulness and confidence is to live a life that is based on our best values, beliefs and strengths, rather than being too influenced by those who are:
the chronically discontented
obsessed with what is wrong
and have become hate-filled.
We need to align ourself with the best in us and humanity rather than be sidetracked by the grumpy, unhappy, and trouble-making people in society.
How a balanced view of life contributes to our health and growth
Now in case you missed it, there is additional significance in all these comments. This orientation to life also helps us to become more aligned with our spiritual possibilities. This boosts our ability to work at healing our illnesses of body or mind. While we seek to be more encouraging, grateful, hopeful, and confident about the noble elements of life, we are also nourishing the seeds for:
our physical and mental well-being
the healing process that builds healthy qualities and function
activating our higher human and spiritual potentials.
All of these actions support our capacity for growth and improvement.
where we are strong, we can become stronger
where we are uncertain, we can become clear in our thinking
where we are anxious or sad, we can become cheerful and confident.
How we view our problems, life situation, and illnesses either supports our progress or causes decline. It all depends on our point of view.
Our building mechanism
We are all endowed with a building and healing mechanism in us. This is what keeps us well and converts our plans and intentions into specific psychological and physical activities. We have the duty to keep giving it constructive directions and goals. If we fail to do this our building mechanism will simply act on whatever fear, resentment, or disappointment that may dominate our attention. When we are full of discouragement or anger, we will be adding to the amount of these dark moods. But when we are steeped in joy, confidence, understanding, and benevolence, we will be adding new light and life to the world.