A powerful call

Aim high, and keep looking up!
Boys play ball in Jakarta, Indonesia – photo by Robert Collins on Unsplash

“…we’ve found that optimism can be a powerful call to action. And it has a multiplier effect: The more optimists there are working for a better future, the more reasons there are to be optimistic.”Bill and Melinda Gates

One of the most pernicious aspects of despair is that it snuffs out the motivation to do anything at all. Nothing seems worthwhile, meaningful or even fun when we are in the grip of despair. And just as optimism has a multiplier effect, so does negativity and despair. If we give up on life, we lose not only our own happiness, but also the exponential effect of whatever joys we could have inspired in others who, in turn will radiate that cheer outward so that it spreads indefinitely.

I’ve been guilty of gloom more times than I care to remember, knowing even as I am venting to a trusted friend or loving family member that my complaints are not doing anything to make anyone’s day better, least of all theirs or mine. I try to be forgiving of myself and others when we find ourselves caught by pessimism and frustration. Even so, I know this is not where I want to stay, or how I want to live my life.

Some people might say it’s easy for Bill and Melinda Gates to be optimists; look at their unimaginable fortune. But riches do not eliminate the human struggles that go along with each and every life. Many wealthy people have chosen to end their own lives, or to break faith with their life partners or families, or just generally to misbehave in countless ways, searching restlessly for more. Money is not the antidote to despair, as often as it may seem to be.

I admire the Gates and others like them, who use their means (whether small or great) to bless the world and leave it a better place. When I’m feeling low, I often find inspiration in learning more about the deeds of those who are ahead of me in this regard. Whether reading about the Gates Foundation and their many projects, or visiting with like-minded people in church or community settings, such optimists provide a virtual “shot in the arm” that inoculates me against the malignant spread of discouragement.

Billionaires tackling global diseases and water supply challenges have much in common with everyday heroes working in our hospitals, schools, communities and homes. All are doing what they can, with what they have at hand, united in the belief that whether or not they see the effects instantly, their work is not done in vain. These are people I look to for encouragement during dark times. Their light shines on the good that is always there, waiting to be recognized. Today and every day, I hope we will see them…and BE them!

30 Comments

  1. Julia, Thank you for sharing your inspiring words.
    Normally I don’t feel despair.
    but today I am.
    🌹💕
    Praying God’s healing mercies for you.
    Blessings 🎶

    • Merry, I am so sorry to read that you have been feeling down. I hope it isn’t health related (yours or anyone else’s) but whatever the reason, I hope you will be very kind to yourself and be showered with blessings soon. Thanks so much for your prayers! They really do make a difference. ❤

  2. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    It’s good to be around other optimists, to get that “shot in the arm”, and jump start your psyche. Life is better that way!
    I, too, admire those whose philanthropy is truly doing good. I also believe that a lot of the ultra high net worth are “challenged”. For some, the wealth is actually a burden. Remember what Peter Parker’s uncle told Peter, as uncle lay dying on the sidewalk, that with great power comes great responsibility! (It’s an old notion, but good to see young Spiderman come to the realization. 😊)
    Hope you’re about over your ailment from last week or so. Have a wonderful week!

    • Hi Chris, I’m feeling much better now. Yes, wealth can be a burden and it’s certainly a responsibility, even (especially) for people who don’t have superpowers! As numerous studies have shown, beyond having enough to buy the basics and not live in fear of going without necessities, money doesn’t really factor into happiness. As with other tools– technology, cars, guns, etc. — it’s all dependent upon how it is used. And I’ve seen, in many situations, that money given in a one-way, nonreciprocal pattern, in the absence of a good strong relationship between giver and receiver, actually ends up being toxic to the receiver in at least some cases. (So-called “enabling” is only one example of this.) But I digress, as Raynard might say. I truly believe the Biblical principle that those who are faithful over a few things are often given more, and that too is something I’ve seen demonstrated time and time again. “Give and it will be given to you,” might seem like a selfish motive for charity, but actually I think it’s more of a natural law, and one we would do well to heed. Hope your week is going well.

  3. Sheila

    Good Monday morning, my dear friend. 💛 I hope you had a nice Mother’s Day. There’s a tinge of sadness for those of us that no longer have our Momma’s to call or send flowers or spend the day with! Breaking the grips of despair and sadness is quite the battle and one that all will face at one time or another. You have been a source of encouragement to me for many years and I hold you close in my thoughts and prayers always! ♥️🙏🏻

    • Thank you, Sheila. Yes, I thought a lot about my Mama this Mother’s Day, having lost her just two years ago exactly one week before that yearly holiday. I will always and forever think of Mama’s death when Mother’s Day rolls around, but more importantly, I’ll think of her life — with laughter as well as gratitude! Thanks for being here and for always understanding how my little old Southern heart feels!! 😀

  4. Harry Sims

    “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs”. — Step Twelve.

    Harry

    • Harry, that’s one of the best of the 12 steps, in my opinion. Even if nothing is said, practicing the principles will carry the message without words.

  5. Good morning, Julia!
    Amen, and hallelujah!

    I DID IT!
    I finally signed myself up to walk 16 miles through the dark of night and into the morning light in Boston on June 22nd – 23rd. It’s the Out of the Darkness Overnight walk, raising funds and awareness to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
    (I’m not being a hero; I need to do this for myself, to remind myself that darkness turns to light every single day.)
    I want to testify to the Light.
    I’ll be walking with a team from the New Hampshire AFSP. I’m very excited about this!
    Love to you, Julia, and the Light you bring us each week!

    • Hooray! I guess it’s a measure of my enthusiasm, that the first thing I did was check my calendar to see if I could invite myself up to Boston to greet you at the end of your walk. Message me how to sponsor you for the fundraising piece. We all need to remember that dawn does indeed come after the darkness. What a unique experience that will be, to walk TOGETHER through the darkest hours. I’m proud of you! and thank for sharing that with us.

      • Julia, we encourage each other. I can’t express how much your Defeat Despair has helped me in difficult times.
        Corinthians 4:8 “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; ”
        (Corinthians 4:7-10 is so inspiring!)

        • Susan, thanks so much for these kind words. It means more than I can say, to think that anyone gets anything out of what I write here.

          As a young girl I remember “stumbling on” Corinthians 4:7-10 and was immediately drawn to its victorious and powerful message. I didn’t fully understand how profound it was — still don’t — but it is definitely a favorite passage (among countess favorite passages).

  6. Jack

    Hi Julia, love the post. I’m a lifelong, habitual offender in the realm of cynicism and despair, and all it’s ever gotten me was addicted and lonely. I’d like to say it’s a genetic predisposition, but all that does is give me cover to repeat unproductive behavior. I’ve discovered what helps, at least helps me: regular, consistent vigorous exercise, moderation on the sweets, reading not watching tv, diligence in pursuing the God of my understanding and probably most importantly, developing an attitude that “this too shall pass”, and that in the end it all works out. Trust in the loving, caring, providential, sovereign God that has plans to prosper me and not to harm me sounds trite, but experience has proven it to be true. Most of the stuff I’ve spent endless hours obsessing upon has mostly not happened, and if it did, I’ve found that I was more than up to the task of handling it with the help of God and friends.
    Optimism rocks! But boy it’s hard

    • Jack, I can vouch for the effectiveness of everything you mention. Cutting TV totally out of my life more than 30 years ago was one of the best things I ever did (I still stream the occasional movie or PBS Masterpiece series, but NO commercials and NO laugh tracks and NO subtle pressure to believe or embrace or eat or wear this or that because some celebrity or TV character is doing it). But the biggest payoff is the huge amount of time to be spent in other, more beneficial pursuits (see: walking, reading, etc. as you mention). Your closing words could be a great quote for the blog. I guess things that “rock” are often “hard” — couldn’t resist the pun!

  7. Alan Malizia

    Amen. We can all make a difference when we are not indifferent.
    -Alan

    • Thank you, Alan. I think some people feign indifference to appear cool (or maybe out of a defensive posture) but I suspect that very few of us are truly indifferent. At least I hope not!

  8. One of my favourite quotes that responds to despair is by Mary Oliver: “You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it.” Grace is the gift of redemption.

    • Oliver has written so many wonderful things that really appeal to me, but I don’t remember ever coming across that one. Thanks for sharing it! And I do agree absolutely. I see life’s blessings as divine grace rather than luck or coincidence. Because such grace often appears unpredictable or perhaps unevenly distributed, we might tend to think of it as random. But I see it in reverse; I think the misfortunes are random, and grace is what consistently enables us to endure or overcome them– as you say, the gift of redemption from earthly struggles both physical and spiritual. Thanks again for sharing this thoughtful quote.

      • A wonderful way to approach living in peace.

  9. Mike B.

    Nice words” Grace is the gift of redemption.” I got hooked on the Sunday NPR puzzle and spending too much time there.
    Have you heard of Slyvia Boorstein? Jewish- Buddhit-psychothrapist. She has a nice NPR podcast with Krista Tippett on the “On being” show. It was a mother’s day broadcast that you might enjoy. She is also funny.
    I enjoyed the St. Augustine post and the observation about the water, which reminded me of what happened to Dr, Gawande ( On Being mortal} when he drank from the Ganges river as part of the dedication service for his father. He became deathly ill with para-typhoid, was in the hospital and had to take some very strong antibiotics for a time.

    • I haven’t heard of Boorstein, but she sounds interesting. I have read some of Gawande’s work in the New Yorker, and I probably would really enjoy his books. Yes, we need to be careful of drinking the water! I’m reminded of a funny story about Jeff. When we visited the Vatican there was a fountain that was said to be holy water of some sort. People were drinking from it and filling their water bottles etc. and Jeff also filled his water bottle. Since we were on a cruise, we had decided to play it safe and drink only bottled water we brought from on board. So I asked him why he was breaking that rule and he replied (with a totally straight face) that it was holy water so it must be OK. He didn’t get sick so maybe he was right. 🙂 But that didn’t work for Gawande at the Ganges!

  10. Mike B.

    Misfortunes as random events would certainly explain some of the storm happenings all over.the place.

    • Yes, it would.

  11. Mike B.

    That is a great Oliver quote. And malice as unpredictable and random would certainly explain better the heartland storms out there.

    • Yes. As Oliver says, I can’t really explain grace, but I’ll take it!

  12. Mike B.

    The Gates’s are sometimes criticised for not helping out more locally. i.e huge homeless problems in Seattle. I have seen their house from lake Washington- five stories underground -somehow. But after all it is their money. Personally, I see great hope in the benevolence of a few.

    • I do remember that they had a rather over-the-top (slight pun on under-the-ground) home. I have wondered whether that indulgence may have been part of what caused them to become even more devoted to philanthropy. Almost all of us discover, to one degree or another, what Jesus meant when he warned that “life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15) I wonder whether that home will end up, like the Hearst Castle, being a burden to their future generations (the Hearst heirs could only get the state of California to reluctantly take over the mansion and its grounds on the condition that the state would eventually be able to earn enough in admission costs to pay for its extraordinary costs of upkeep). Maybe since so much of the Gates home is underground, they could turn it into some sort of elaborate civil defense structure. 😀 Or an isolation infirmary for a truly devastating contagious outbreak of some deadly, treatment-resistant disease. I guess I’ve read too many Robin Cook novels.

  13. Mike B.

    Have you read Krauthamer’s memoir ? Supposed to be good.

    • I’m not sure which one is his memoir; possibly it was just recently published and I haven’t yet heard of it. But I bet it is remarkable, since the details of his life were extraordinary. Because of all he endured, to say nothing of his medical expertise, he could speak with some credibility about such things as advanced directives and the caution we must employ when we presume to speak for our future selves, let alone for others. He was truly a pillar of wisdom and I still miss being able to read his thoughtful, well-balanced opinions. Like the great Nat Hentoff, Krauthammer could not be pigeonholed into any specific orthodoxy. His views were never determined by anyone’s party line. I do have a book of his essays. I’ll have to look for his memoir.

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