As promised, here’s the first issue of our freshened-up newsletter … with a bit of inspiration as you start the new year.
But first an invitation: We’ve just set the date for a workshop April 28-30, in Minneapolis-St. Paul. If you’ve been thinking about attending, see the description here.
Now on to that bit of inspiration, in the form of an email I received the other day from Barack Obama. (You may remember him?)
He told the stories of three people — Kat, Chris, and Jahkil — who had made a difference in their communities during 2017. They had cared for the neighbors after a flood, funded college scholarships, lessened the burden of homelessness.
Those aren’t the kind of stories you usually see on the news, but they’re every bit as “true” and “real” as the headlines.
Every bit as significant.
Every bit as worthy of our attention.
Now, each of us has a choice: Of all the stories we can choose to tell, which are most useful in creating the kind of world we want?
What options would open to us if we chose to tell more stories like those of Kat, Chris, and Jahkil? (Stories like the ones I know you are creating each and every day, even if you might be unaware of the true significance of what you are doing day-in, day-out.)
How might that choice sustain the vitality of public life … and our own vitality as each of us makes our own contribution to the world?
And once we’ve chosen the stories we will tell, what meaning do we make of them? The email went on to say …
Kat, Chris, and Jahkil were all living in the same country, during the same time, as you and me. They chose not to be daunted by challenges, but to stand up and make their world better.
I saw that spirit all across America in people who chose to get involved, get engaged, and stand up not only to defend their rights, but more importantly, the rights of others. People who rejected cynicism and pessimism and pushed forward with a relentless, infectious optimism. Not a blind optimism that ignores the scale and scope of our challenges, but rather a hard-earned optimism rooted in the stories of real progress.
It’s a belief that each of us can make a difference, and all of us ought to try.”
That’s exactly the kind of “grounded optimism” I’ve been working to nourish, through writing and teaching … my own personal quest to counter the cynicism and pessimism that often threaten to overwhelm us.
I can understand why people are drawn toward cynicism and pessimism. (We could make quite a list of reasons!)
Still, I see those feelings as a sign that idealism has been buried under disappointment and frustration. When we feel our high hopes for society have been dashed, it may be healthy self-protection to tone down our dreams, to become reserved and skeptical.
But we pay a high price when mistrust and apathy dominate our collective mood, limiting what we believe is possible for humanity.
Especially right now, it’s crucial that we continue to make space for optimism … for belief in one another … for passions, hopes, and dreams. That’s what will fuel bold action and create the kind of world we want.
I hope these messages will reinforce that spirit for you.
And on that note, let me wish you the very best for a New Year filled with promise and possibility.
P.S. You can read Barack Obama’s message, complete with stories and more inspiration, here.
One voice can change a room, and if one voice can change a room, then it can change a city, and if it can change a city, it can change a state, and if it change a state, it can change a nation, and if it can change a nation, it can change the world. Your voice can change the world.”
— Barack Obama