Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An Optimistic Future

When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.
 John M. Richardson, Jr.

Learned helplessness is condition in which a person has learned to behave helplessly because of their circumstances and experiences in the past.  Martin Seligman, PhD,  and others have found that even when conditions change for an individual,  they continued to believe that they had no ability to help themselves to a different future. What does this mean when it is applied on a cultural level, especially in places like India and Nepal, where there are lingering caste systems, or in any country of great social disparity?

Recently, I was listening to Anand Giridharadas, who was raised in Cleveland, Ohio, telling about an experience he had while visiting India.  He was at a dinner party with several guests attended to by servants as is the custom in India. Later that evening he needed to deliver a mattress to his host.  When he returned to the house he was wearing shorts and a T-Shirt.  The house servant thought that he was a lower class delivery boy and addressed him as such.  You can hear the pod-cast of his story here.  The servant clearly had an image of his place and the place of others in this world while the American born Anand could slide easily between different stations in life.

Our world is going through an amazing cultural shift right now in part because of our sudden access to global information.   Chavez said, that, “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.

Martin Seligman continued his research and found that just as you can learn helplessness you can also learn optimism. We all can.  We should not allow ourselves to be limited by the expectations of others, nor should we restrict our future to imagined boundaries.  Have courage and dare to dream big!
*For some very special friends.


  1. Great post! Learned optimism is a great goal to strive for right now.

  2. A very good point. As problematic as the world wide web can be--it is bringing information to places kept in darkness. The changes are happening so quickly. Even our knowledge of disaster and the ability to send help more quickly helps us act on our desire to be benevolent. Evil cannot triumph when good people know and act.

    And I love the beautiful photo of your mother and child.

  3. I too commend you on this thoughtful post. Education, global communication, and learned optimism provide glimmers of hope for challenged countries and everyone.

  4. Inspirational and educational. Learned optimism is something that can move mountains. Everyone needs hope. Here we take so very much for granted.

  5. Very interesting how he talks about the narrative vs. reality. Great post, Butternut. It has left me with something to think about - how do we marry learned optimism with a reality that we wish to bring to existence? For all peoples, everywhere.

  6. A very inspriring post of hope and change. I love the quote of Chavez and isn't it wonderful that awareness and education can make a shift in thinking and behaving. Lets hope of the biggest shift ever.

  7. Great post and very interesting.

  8. Wow, look at what is happening in Tunisia and all over the Middle East. We seem to be at the edge of something really big!