Yesterday I had breakfast with a friend’s father. He was “somebody I had to meet,” and I am glad that I did. While we discussed wisdom, knowledge, and learning from others, he shared a poignant anecdote. One of the most successful and well-respected men he knew had once said, “Every single person is better than you in something. It’s your job to find out what that is and learn from it.” We can all learn something from other people no matter how young, poor, or seemingly unintelligent. Wisdom comes in many shapes and forms.
The anecdote reminded me of time that I spent in eastern Slovakia a few years ago. I visited a Roma(often referred to as gypsy) settlement and spent time with the children for a few weeks. As the only soccer player of our group, I was able to get exceptionally close with many of the children. We had no verbal communication, but body language was all we really needed.
But these kids were filthy. Some of the children had dried mud caked on their hair. Most of the time, a repulsive odor pervaded the air. Their filth was, no doubt, a result of the extreme poverty they lived in throughout their lives. Most were quite thin while their clothes were often tattered donations. Like the commercials showing African children, these kids were wearing “Oakland Raiders” caps and other American branded apparel.
Despite the filth, despite the squalor, and despite the lack of opportunity and future, these were some of the most positive people I ever met. Out of necessity, these children had realized they could either be miserable with their lives or choose to perceive things in a different way. The kids had rewired their brain to ignore the negative and focus on the things they did have.
There is No Good, There is No Bad
As humans, it is natural to be emotional and feel saddened by adverse conditions. However, we should also recognize our perceptions of events will foster this “good” or “bad” feeling. As Shakespeare wrote, “There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” An event is simply an event, but your interpretation and analysis assesses meaning to it. Now, I understand we are all human and to view all events in this manner is nearly impossible. Yet it is important to realize you can control your interpretation of events. Here are a few scenarios when this practice might be helpful:
• Your significant other leaves you – this can be a life altering experience for many people who do not have the proper mindset. While it may be difficult to end a relationship with someone that you like, you can instead think with positivity. Imagine the new possibilities to meet people or calculate the additional free time you can now dedicate to hobbies.
• You are fired from your job – this can be a traumatic and scary experience for many. Instead of panicking and approaching the event with a negative mindset, focus on the positive aspects. Now you can finally start that business you have always wanted pursue the career that has interested you from a young age.
• Weight loss becomes a challenge – after a certain point, weight loss can become a considerable challenge. If you are working hard and still not shedding the pounds, focus instead on the internal benefits of the healthy diet and fitness regimen that you maintain. Just because you do not lose weight, doesn’t mean that the spinach and kale aren’t benefiting your vital organs and providing micronutrients to maintain a healthy immune system.
• Natural disaster strikes – it may seem like the end of the world when a natural disaster strikes. Still, realize that your lives are more important and people have rebuilt before. Entire cities, such as New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, have been rebuilt over time. You can do this too.
Let Dirty Children Lead the Way
The young, smiling Roma children were evidence that happiness and fulfillment comes from within. Despite their appalling condition, they relished the opportunity to play soccer with an outsider in the dirt and the mud. You may not be able to trick your mind into viewing truly horrible events positively, but if you can change your mindset even a little, you may find yourself a lot happier than you otherwise would be.