Growing up I had a collection of story books from the Little Golden Books series published by Random House, including my favourite, Pollyanna…
Mum did our grocery shopping at the A & P at Warden and Lawrence. We had no car in those days and it was within walking distance for us. I loved shopping at our A & P – the lovely staff, especially Doreen, who all became our friends; the smell of the coffee grinder which was, in those days, operated exclusively by employees; the seemingly never-ending supply of Jane Parker’s Spanish Bar Cakes which we only ever had as a treat on high days and holidays but which I wanted to slip into the cart on every visit; the oh-so-cool roller conveyer that made the greatest percussion sounds whilst shuttling brimful shopping bins outside to the waiting cars; the line of empty bundles buggies across the front of the store awaiting their cargo which would be packed, of course, in A & P brown paper sacks; and — most awesome to my tyke self – Mr. Beattie, the butcher who, obvious to me at least, was a man of gravitas, toiling behind the meat counter with the oh-so-long knives and his chainmail gloves. I just knew they were his armour and that he was a knight of the round table. It was a shop of infinite possibilities and constant fun.
There was a revolving rack, exclusively displaying Little Golden Books, at the front of our A & P. It was in front of the raised office with the big glass window, and at the edge of the produce department where Doreen worked. From as early as age three I can remember ‘my friend’ Doreen slipping me a few grapes or cherries, a peach or an apple – I suspect she knew Mum and Dad struggled to make ends meet in those days. Doreen made me feel oh-so-special with those gifts and visiting with her was always the highlight of my shopping days with Mum. I was positive that Doreen liked those Little Golden Books just as much as me because she always knew when there was a new one on the rack. On those days she’d lead me by the hand, take the new volume down and let me look at it as long as I liked — at least as long as it took Mum to get our fruits and veggies. Every now and then, for a special treat, and only if I was very good, Mum would buy me the new story — a really big deal in those days. I still have most of those books; they are all well-read and well-thumbed but none more-so than Pollyanna, a beautiful tale penned by Eleanor Porter – do you know it?
Pollyanna Whittier is an orphan who is sent to live with her strict, mean-spirited and forbidding aunt named Polly. Aunt Polly makes it clear she is only having Pollyanna on sufferance. Despite the blows life has dealt, Pollyanna remains super-optimistic, mostly because of the “Glad Game”, invented by her dad. The “Glad Game” was something my Mum, Dad and I played very often ourselves, trying to find something good in every situation, trying to see the good in every person. Pollyanna was my favourite bedtime story, my most-requested choice and no pages, not even any words could be skipped in the telling as I very quickly had it memorized. I loved the story and its heroine, I wanted to be her and — so Mum and Auntie Pam have told me — except for the orphan/nasty Aunt bit, I was a Pollyanna.
My childhood innocence is long-gone. The world we live in, rife with horrors of our own making – Islamophobia, cheating (think: Russian state-operated olympic athlete doping), gang and gun violence, racism and homophobia — puts a bit of a premium on optimism. I wonder how Pollyanna and her creator Eleanor would handle the hatred and violence of our modern world? Would the “Glad Game” be enough?
It occurred to me that I don’t remember the moment, the event, the age that I ceased to believe there was good in everyone, that time when I only saw that good in everyone, their best qualities. Do you believe the best about others? If not, do you remember the time when your inclination was to view each and every person as inherently good?
How, then, as individuals, as a society do we regain and keep Pollyanna’s optimism? What adjustments do we have to make in our mindset to not only look for, but actually see the best in people? Because that perspective is what enables us to be welcoming, accepting, encouraging, helpful, friendly and kind — not only with our thoughts and words but our actions as well — all because we are willing to give others the benefit of the doubt. So simple. So incredibly challenging.
Challenging because in making this mental adjustment we choose to lower our defences which makes us vulnerable to hurt, disappointment, betrayal, dishonesty and larceny.
Challenging because we are instinctual profilers — we interpret the words and actions of others based upon our own experiences. Knowing this, we bear the onus of first recognizing this thinking model and then consciously guarding against jumping to conclusions about another’s behaviour.
Challenging because interpreting our judgement is necessary; are we concentrating on imperfections when we should be championing good character or is there a well-founded and fair basis for that negative gut-reaction?
After the hateful massacre at Pulse in Orlando, I feel overwhelmed, furious and sorrowful. I do not want to live in a world where the homophobes or the racists or the cheaters or the gangbangers win. I desperately want to see the good in everyone, in fact I desperately want everyone to see the good in all others. I want to live in a world that is tolerant enough and understanding enough to forgive the little things that might otherwise anger us. I want to live that life where the benefit of the doubt is given. If we can do that, there will be much less anger, less racism, less Islamophobia, less young men who feel their best option is a gang and less homophobia. It can happen — if we are willing enough, respectful enough and faithful enough. Please let us be optimistic because I really want to live in a world where the “Glad Game” is commonplace, where kindness and goodwill abound, a world where grace is freely given. I want to change the world, don’t you?
Love is better than anger.
Hope is better than fear.
Optimism is better than despair.
So let us be loving, hopeful, and optimistic.
And we’ll change the world.”
’Til next time, y’all…