Thursday, January 5, 2017

Negativity and your Inner Pooh

A.A. Milne brought us an incredible journey with his characters and stories. He is the creator of the simple, loyal, and always hungry Winnie the Pooh. Pooh is the protagonist in a series of adventures that tend to take place in the solitude of the hundred acre woods, and in the imagination of a child, Christopher Robin. The earliest of these stories are almost on hundred years old. Many have enjoyed them as children, only to later share them with children, grandchildren and more. 

Much as we all appreciate Pooh, however, I focus today on an ancillary character in the stories. A balance to the happy-go-lucky, optimistic Pooh is a donkey named Eeyore. Eeyore does not share Pooh's simplistic optimism. In fact, he is the epitome of pessimism. He is described as characterized as "pessimistic, gloomy, depressed, and anhedonic." Some examples:

Greeting our protagonist one morning Eeyore says

"Good morning, Pooh Bear," "If it is a good morning," "Which I doubt." 

Informed that there is to be a celebration, a party, Eeyore says

"Very interesting," "I suppose they will be sending me down the odd bits which got trodden on. Kind and Thoughtful. Not at all, don't mention it."

In discussing the weather, Eeyore focuses upon the cold, and in his inimitable manner finds a depressing manner in which to look at the bright side:

"It's snowing still," said Eeyore gloomily. "So it is." "And freezing." "Yes." "However," he said, brightening up a little, "we haven't had an earthquake lately."

Eeyore brings a dismal outlook to all he perceives. He is ever convinced that all is not well, that all is against him, that the world is to be survived and not engaged. He brings an gushing mix of ambivalence and pessimism to his companions. He never hesitates to rain on their parade, caution them of impending disaster, remind them of their shortfalls. In the process, what does Eeyore accomplish?

Eeyore is a foil for the story. In literature, there is a recurrent theme in which the story's hero has some flaw or shortcoming. As we read Winnie the Pooh, we may perceive that Eeyore has been saddled with many such flaws; that Eeyore is merely an amalgamation of flaws and problems. He is a project upon which the other inhabitants of the hundred acre woods work. As Eeyore tries with all of his might to bring the others down, they try as mightily to bring Eeyore up. 

Eeyore comes to mind periodically as I follow social media and try to remain abreast of what is occurring in the world, but more specifically the world of workers' compensation. We find ourselves confronted with a fair assortment of challenges in this business. There are competing interests and personalities. There are agendas and pessimism. There is change flowing past us, around us, every day. Each day seems to bring us this legislative action, that regulatory adjustment, this decision, that ruling. The only constant is change. 

And in the midst of these challenges there are a handful who seem focused on finding the positive, the "Poohs" amongst us. They try to see the positive; they accept the challenge and persevere in spite of challenges or concerns. Some might say their optimism, like Pooh, is at times simplistic or even ill-advised. They find the positive angle, even if that is "this will be a real challenge." They make suggestions and offer ideas, even if some ideas may seem unrealistic or unattainable.

But the "Eeyores" walk amongst us also. They are relentless in their criticism, pessimism, and dismissiveness. They are certain of their superiority and infallibility (sometimes downright narcissistic). There is no idea too small or inconsequential to merit their criticism and superior condescension. They reject for the sake of rejection. They are, right or wrong, convinced of the correctness of their positions, and sometimes even icily offer their pity for others who just cannot see it their way. 

Certainly, we all have our days. Even our best "Pooh" may find herself/himself in an "Eeyore" state of mind periodically. But, the "Poohs" return quickly to their optimism and good nature. They inspire us and motivate us. Sometimes their very naivete, so derided by the "Eeyores," is what we find most compelling about them. The "Poohs" amongst us have "high hopes."

Frank Sinatra popularized lyrics by Sammy Cohn back in the 1950s, in a song, "High Hopes." It similarly expresses the "can do" of the "Poohs." The lyrics describe underdogs (an ant and a ram) who aspire to the improbable (moving a rubber tree plant and punching a hole in a dam). The challenges are highlighted and accepted ("anyone knows an ant, can't"). But, the song suggests that we can't let go. It warns that our backs will periodically be "to the wall." But, when we find ourselves so challenged, we must keep on "buttin that dam." See, the ram and the ant keep on trying, "'stead of letting go," they have "high apple pie, in the sky hopes." 

Time wears on us all. Professionally and personally, we progress through a lifetime of success and failure. Unfortunately, too many of us tend to remember all of our failures and forget too many of our successes. We each choose though, whether to become an Eeyore, or regain our inner Pooh. Will we have the strength to challenge the limitations that "anyone knows," or will we insist that "all problems are just a toy balloon," and "they're just bound to go pop," through our "high hopes?" 

We have some constant critics amongst us in workers' compensation. Their Eeyore comes shining through, channelling his persistent sentiment, "it'll never work." They all had an inner Pooh at some point, and perhaps time will show it to them again. It is all a matter of attitude. As Zig Ziegler said, "your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude."

I hope optimism and progress for you all in 2017. What progress means is of course up to you, but I hope you are moving towards something (your goal) that you find important, personally and professionally. And, I hope that we can all be a bit more successful suppressing our inner Eeyore when we interact with each other. I am going to strive to keep my Eeyore to myself this year and put my Pooh foot forward. 

Happy New Year!










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