In one of my careers, my job was to teach highschool kids, newly arrived in Canada, about Canadian history. That included some recent world history too. Since these same kids would also take Canadian Geography with me, I often treated them to a fine film made by a National Geographic photographer, Dewitt Jones. The film was titled, “Celebrate What’s Right with the World.” http://celebratewhatsright.com/
My main reason for showing this film was that adolescents can lapse into dire cynicism, and adolescents displaced by traumatic events in their home countries are perhaps more subject to hopelessness than are their born-in-Canada peers. Studying Canadian History does little to displace or assuage those feelings.
Jones’ film addresses how easy it is to see things that are wrong with the world, yet how rewarding it is to look better, to look with a different attitude and to see things that are right with the world.
I struggled with that problem of pessimism myself. Often, at the end of a teaching day, I’d find myself being troubled by a conflict with an unruly student or an offensive remark made by a colleague. I’d unhappily stew over the problem. If I let it, the problem would plague my thoughts and fester for hours. We’ve all been there. “I should have said…,” or “What I should have done was…” pointlessly grinding the hard grains of the past in our minds.
But what does this mean? When I look back at any random teaching day with the mind-set of finding what went right, and I include all the little things that we often take for granted, I find that I had perhaps 200-300 good interactions with individuals and only one that went off the rails. How do I put more emotional weight on the 200-300 interactions and less weight on that single thing that went wrong?
Awareness and a small celebration of those happy moments is key, but sadly it will always be the case that negative interactions will emotionally outweigh the positive ones. The things that go wrong stand out. One of these moments is not like the others.
The Dewitt Jones film is about photography, it is about seeing beauty sometimes where one might not expect to find it. It is about mindset and celebrating the beauty that your seeing it for what it is and what it can be, changes your own mindset from pessimism to optimism.
Okay, so Dewitt Jones can get himself all dewey-eyed and whispery-voiced in his world travels while photographing nature’s beauty. I don’t do that kind of thing. I don’t even want to do that kind of thing. But the film has a much deeper meaning. As he says in his film, “If you change your mindset from ‘I’ll believe it when I see it,’ to ‘I’ll see it when I believe it,’ great things can happen.” In other words, your ability to see things in a positive light begins with applying a positive attitude. Once you believe you will see beautiful things, you look for beauty (or goodness) wherever it may present itself. Belief allows the perception of that which might have gone unnoticed.
Teachers, for example, might think back to all the many students who greeted them with a smile, who said, “Hello” in the hallway, who thanked their teachers for helping them with a problem, who waved across the cafeteria, etc. Those things count too, in the total sum of a day’s experience. Believe that good things can happen and they are more likely to happen! Look for goodness and you are likely to find it. Believe first, then search for what you believe to be possible.
In many ways, the Jones’ film projects a sermon-like message. Though I am not a believer in God, I am a believer in goodness. I hope I am able to continue to seek and to see goodness manifested until I rest my striving to live.