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"Reclaim Optimism about Our State's Future"
Ventura Star, August 31, 2003

By Terry Paulson, PhD

It's time that we reclaim the optimism that made America what it is and use that optimism to revitalize our future.

A local news show producer, frustrated with complaints about how negative media news had become, did a little truth-telling of his own: "We know what America wants to watch. Our news has to have 90 percent problems, crimes and catastrophes. If we add ten percent humor, human interest and good personalities, people will watch our news. That's the nature of the beast. If you lead with a positive story, they'll click their way to another station. For every day of the year, we have footage of past deaths and disasters. If there is no current crisis, we can always have anniversaries of old ones!"

Princess Di will conveniently die every year on cue. Due to al Qaeda terrorists, September 11 will never be the same. The media is prepared to bring any disaster, celebrity or political scandal, or graphic crime to your TV within minutes. Producers fill hours and editors fill pages with some of the worst news our world has to offer. The frantic and energizing challenge of delivering "bad" news every day often comes at the expense of our optimism and our perceived opportunities.

In ages past, Americans were more focused on local news. News of national catastrophes would take days to be covered; international news would take even longer. The papers still had to be filled. They'd show pictures of Martha's car in the ditch. They'd cover the local church woman's group taking casseroles to Martha as she recovered in the local hospital. They'd show a community coming together to rebuild a fire-damaged barn. We were a powerful people, because we could handle the problems we faced. Those stories still happen today, but they are seldom covered. They don't make the headlines or the lead story on the evening news.

Instead, too many have become powerless observers. Instead of getting involved locally we watch transfixed by scandals, wars, and disasters that are beyond our ability to fix. We are trained in what psychologists call learned helplessness-"There's nothing we can do, so we might as well wait until someone does something to us! Then we can sue them!" We are more prone to becoming victims than victors; we whine more than we work at winning! That isn't the America most of us want to leave our grandchildren. It isn't the America we want to live in.

Research on optimism has found that optimism is not built on Pollyanna thinking. It is learned through a history of mastery. True optimists have a track record of overcoming disappointments and obstacles on the way to repeated success. Because they have survived and overcome past problems, they believe they will do it again. Optimists don't whine about problems when they can invest that time in finding solutions.

Life is like a moving vehicle with no brakes, no off switch and no reverse. When you are making your way down the road, it is critical to keep your rearview mirror smaller than your front window. Some people are so focused on what has happened in the past that they can't even see the opportunities that are lying in front of them. Reclaiming optimism starts with getting out of the rearview mirror and into what you can do to make a difference today. Learn from the past but don't get stuck there.

People around the country are looking at the growing California deficit, the circus-like recall vote, and our struggling economy and saying, "The California Dream is dead!" In a state with 34 million people with money to spend, there is opportunity out there. Every economic downturn sows the seeds of frustration and loss into free enterprise opportunity. People lose jobs and struggle to find ways to pay for homes they can't afford. Need provides the motivation for innovation and new ventures. Some ventures make it; others find jobs in those companies that do. The California Dream is not dead. Instead of being a "bad news" junkie, choose to be an optimist and start investing that time finding your place in California's future.

Terry Paulson, Ph.D., of Agoura Hills, CA is a professional speaker on making change work and author of They Shoot Managers Don't They?

—Terry Paulson, PhD

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