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It's all about attitude

By Lady Liberty
web posted December 18, 2006

I have problems. I have all sorts of them. I don't have enough money, and I don't have enough time in the day. I have too much to eat, and too little exercise. I have clients on the job that drive me to distraction; at home, I have misbehaving cats (okay, it's barely possible that they might be a little spoiled), faltering appliances, and a car that could use some work. I have bad hair days. Sometimes, what I have the most of is too little motivation and too much fatalism to do anything about any of the other things I have too little or too much of!

I think it's safe for me to say that I'm not alone in these circumstances. Most of us have problems that, while they may differ in the specifics, all contribute alike to make our lives harder than we wish they were. Sometimes these problems are all of our own doing — we say things we shouldn't, we fail to do things we should, or we put off saying or doing what we ought. Other times, they're foisted on us — from storm damage to diseases, from accidents to the actions of others — and we're forced to deal with things to which our initial response is typically, "Why me?"

Among all of the other things I have, I also happen to have an acquaintance whose problems make mine — and probably yours — pale into insignificance.

Just last month, her husband suffered a near fatal accident. After several days during which she knew she could lose him at any moment, he began to rally. But just after seeing him restored to sufficient health where he could undergo further rehabilitation from home, her elderly mother — who had long been vehemently opposed to the very idea of a nursing home — reached the point where she no longer had any other option. No sooner was that difficult determination made than the elderly woman ended up in the hospital where she went into a quick and ultimately fatal decline.

I remember thinking it was at least fortunate that her husband had recovered enough to be an emotional support and a comforting presence for her as she lost and memorialized her mother. I've no doubt that his attendance at her mother's funeral was a real source of strength, not least because she could be thankful for what she'd almost lost even while she mourned for what she had. Those who saw him there were also thankful, in part for her sake, to see him regaining his health and to note that his never-flagging optimism was fully intact.

Late last night, without warning, her husband began having trouble breathing. He quickly lost consciousness and, by the time he reached the hospital, he had had a heart attack and suffered severe oxygen deprivation. Although heroic medical efforts resuscitated him and modern technology kept him alive after that, doctors held out no hope whatsoever that he'd ever recover at all let alone in any meaningful way. This morning, after enduring so much already in recent days, she was forced to decide whether or not he should be kept breathing artificially until such time as even the machines couldn't forestall the inevitable. Somewhere, somehow, she found the strength to let him go.

If there's anybody who has the right to ask, "Why me?" today, I think that person might be her. As a friend and I shared the tragic news this afternoon, we were asking much the same thing. My friend commented, "It's just not fair," and I couldn't disagree. But that's when I realized that justice doesn't necessarily play any part of it, and our expectations of justice can't, either. What matters is what we do with those things that are within our control, and even more important, how we handle those things beyond our control.

There are people whose eyes glaze over when the talk turns to politics, but most actually have some interest. They do little or nothing, though, because they're convinced that just one person can't do much. Sometimes they simply believe that things have deteriorated so far that nothing can put them right. Seeing ongoing injustices perpetrated by the government and its authorities only serve to make those opinions more cemented in our heads. Regardless, they say, these things are beyond our control.

As individuals, they're right, at least in the main. What they fail to consider, though, is the influence that one person can have on others thus ensuring actions are undertaken by more than just one person. They also don't stop to look at the fact that individuals and groups composed of individuals got us where we are, which means that individuals and groups of individuals can put things right again. The real problem here is the difference in attitude between those two groups.

Those in authority tend to like it there. But the truth is that they liked power long before they achieved it. Power has been, in too many cases, their end goal. The reason they've achieved power in simplistic terms is their attitude: They must have it (they can do so much and get so much if they do); they deserve it (they know better than the rest of us what's good for us and will impose it on us when they've got the power to do so—and just as important, they'll get what's good for them while they're at it); and they will get it. And sure enough, whether they truly must have it or even peripherally deserve it, they do get it because they're unrelenting in their pursuit of it.

While an individual with an attitude may be enough to get a little local power into their hands, to get truly powerful requires a group of people. And how do these individuals get groups behind them? Attitude. They're so sure of themselves that they're able to convince other people to be sure of them, too. And the next thing you know, these leaders with an attitude have followers with an attitude. Attitudes are catching!

Meanwhile, those of us who see what's going on and lament it tend to keep to ourselves. We're individuals, we say, and cohesiveness implies "group-think" or individual incompetence. Even worse, we refuse to band together with those who don't adhere to our every single principle. That may be admirable in the abstract, but that attitude does precisely the opposite of what the power-seekers manage, and that's to splinter potential groups and ensure individuals never get too many like minds behind them.

Marketing 101 tells you that consistency of message — appearances, catch phrases, and the like — is crucial to attain recognizability. And recognizability is crucial to attain popularity. The refusal to adopt a single logo (let's let everybody contribute whatever they like!) alone can be devastating for a campaign, and has been. The refusal to support a candidate because he's willing to work within the system really only says you'd rather have all or nothing, and that nothing is just what you're going to get. The attitude here is that compromise is always a bad thing.

I have a hard time disagreeing with that, particularly since I'm unwilling to compromise my own principles. But we got here in increments, so backing out of it in increments is not only sensible, but also happens to be the only manner that's feasible. As long as you don't give up your principles as the end goal, as long as you continue to work toward those principles, there's no compromise here. Unfortunately, the attitude toward incrementalism — even when it's headed in the right direction — is catching as well.

A couple of hundred years ago, the problem was much the same. But people like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry had such "never say die" attitudes that it spread to just enough people to offer backing to men like George Washington. I can remember reading once that only about 10% of those living in America supported the Revolution, so let's not pretend that vast majorities need convincing — it was Sam Adams who said with good reason that "...it does not take a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds." In other words, attitudes are catching.

Forget those who are obviously against freedom and those who are for it. The vast majority of Americans today consist of two groups and only two groups: Those who don't think they can do anything about the status quo, and those who don't care. Those groups are so large because it's work to stay focused, and it's even more work to stay optimistic when focuses waiver or hopes are dashed (don't ask me how I felt on November 8, okay?). It's perhaps inevitable that that attitude is the most contagious of all because it's just so damned easy to have.

But let me tell you a little bit about one individual who didn't opt for "easy," and who strived instead for what was true and good. I didn't know the man who died this morning terribly well, but I'd chatted with him a number of times. I happen to remember the first time we really sat down and talked because he and his wife had rescued an abandoned kitten not much earlier. As a longtime cat lover myself, I'd given his wife a little advice here and there when she asked.

A year ago, I found an abandoned kitten myself, but I decided that I couldn't possibly keep it. I tearfully fed it, cuddled it, and took it to a local shelter. But no sooner had I made my decision than I regretted it. The next afternoon, at a work-related get-together, I ended up sitting next to this man and telling him about the kitten. Despite being a brand new cat owner himself — it was the first either he or his wife had ever owned — and the fact he'd only just met me, he enthusiastically encouraged my change of heart. Without any kind of prompting, he told me that he'd do whatever he could to make an adoption possible even if he had to adopt the kitten himself to turn it over to me.

As it turned out, I didn't need any intervention from him to get the kitten back home. It took some time and some real effort, but that little cat has been an absolute delight over the course of the last year and was frankly worth the trouble. Every time I reflect on how lucky I am to have her in my life, I remember that I had help to get her there, and I certainly count his encouragement and his offer as part and parcel of that.

When I think of that man today, what I remember is his kindness and his smile. On all of the subsequent occasions I saw him and talked with him, he was never without either. You had better believe I won't be forgetting him or his attitude any time soon. Now imagine how much more his incredibly optimistic and generous attitude affected those who really spent a lot of time with him!

He and his wife were married for many years, and when I spoke with her today, her own attitude surprised me. Yes, she was sad and she was shocked. But she also told me how grateful she was that he'd been there when her mother died, and how certain she was that he was in a better place now where she knew he'd be happy. I believe that her attitude was in large part because of her faith, but was also in no small measure a reflection of her husband's outlook on things. I strongly suspect his children and his friends will also long reap the benefits of how he approached life in both its joys and its adversities: with a smile, and with a can-do attitude.

This man was "just" an individual, and I barely knew him. Yet he left a very real impression on me, one from which I've benefited and learned. Can you imagine what we could do if we emulated him in our own lives? What if we stayed optimistic for liberty because we know that, in the end and if we work at it, the good and the right will overcome the evil and the wrong? What if we held onto our faith in freedom and used it as our focus even through adversity? What if we lived the example of that kind of attitude for our friends and acquaintances? What if we ourselves did nothing for the "cause" except shared it? What if we simply refused to give up?

The next time you're feeling tired or hopeless, the single most important thing you should remember is this: Attitudes are catching. Which kind would you like to spread?


In memory of DL: May he rest in peace. And may his wife and family find their own in the knowledge that their loved one made a real and positive difference in the lives of all of those he touched. Such men live forever. ESR

Lady Liberty, a senior writer for ESR, is a graphic designer and pro-freedom activist currently residing in the Midwest. More of her writings and other political and educational information is available on her web site, Lady Liberty's Constitution Clearing House, at http://www.ladylibrty.com. E-mail Lady Liberty at ladylibrty@ladylibrty.com


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