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“If you think the worst and get the worst, you suffer twice.”

Loretta LaRoche

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“We all have one foot in a fairytale, and the other in the abyss.”

Paulo Coelho

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“Awfulizing and catastrophizing,” I believe is a phrase Loretta LaRoche coined in a Tedtalk. The idea is that our inner dialogue has a nasty habit of elevating events, spanning the truly inconsequential to the truly consequential, to stress inducing drama levels. Inevitably this increases negative feelings and diminishes not only positive feelings but, maybe more importantly, positive events.

Which leads me to today’s world.

If you are not careful, especially if you are active on social media, to think everything is awful and each individual event is a catastrophe of epic proportions.

I am not suggesting this is easy. There are real issues and some really awful events, but even the most simplistic looking things are challenging to think through because of their dimensions. The headlines capture the ‘catastrophe’, but while events may seem fairly awful and unsettling, we have to weave our way through the things that are a bit more difficult to see and some of the underlying truths.

It is only then that we can get clear sight of the present and reality. This is important because if we only see things as awful or a catastrophe not only will our attitudes be driven by that, but also our solutions. At its worst people will throw up their hands and give up. This translates into thoughts like “we are so divided, why not just split the country up so likeminded people can live together.” I think even the person who brought it up realized it wasn’t really a solution, but it is also a sign of the depth of awfulizing and catastrophizing seeping into the general gestalt of society. While I have sought to discuss this gestalt feeling as a ‘lost grand narrative’ the truth is there is an asymmetry between minority opinions/power and majority opinions/power. The majority opinion (wants) feels like everything is awful because the minority opinions are using disproportionate power to put their opinions into control actions for the whole. This asymmetry is like living in a liminal space – a transition as it were.

Which leads me to say that every transition has its own singular issues.

Every situation has its own singular issues. And, let’s be clear, every one of those situations has singular problems. We should all recognize that in the overall life cycle of societal problems and opportunities, practical and possibilities, hope & despair, heroes & villains, will appear in different forms – all with the intent to either further our ambitions or steal our ambitions.

This is not cynical, this is … uhm … reality

And within that reality someone has to navigate pragmatism and idealism mostly by assessing the problems, or obstacles, to your ambition.

Harping on whatever you view as awful or a catastrophe doesn’t really get you anywhere.

They are what they are.

Which leads me to say I could also argue that arguing over idealistic ideas and vision without admitting some pragmatism and practicality doesn’t really get you anywhere.

In fact, I could argue if you don’t everything will feel awful and most things will appear to be a catastrophe. It is not a binary discussion nor are pragmatism and possibilities, idealism and practical, are mutually exclusive.

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“Idealism increases in direct proportion to one’s distance from the problem.”

John Galsworthy

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Look. We all hate cynicism, but far too often we confuse it with pragmatism and practicality. I would also suggest we all get tired of pragmatism because, well, far too often it sounds small.

But I would also point out that we all not only get tired, but absolutely unequivocally hate, false hope and unrealized idealism mainly because it forces us into an awfulizing & catastrophizing mindset. This happens because “large” unrealized equals zero, nothing, nada. People don’t like a zero, nothing, nada no matter how large the zero, nothing, nada is.

Neither option, looked upon in isolation, is attractive or likeable.

On our good days we do our best to walk the tight rope. We sit down and assess what we have, assess what we could have, assess resources, money, whatever, and figure out, pragmatically, how to get going doing what needs to be done so it doesn’t feel awful or a catastrophe.

We know we may not always get it right and we may not always get done whatever is needed to get done to alleviate the problems, or all the problems, that exist in the here and now. But I would point out that, realistically, you can never alleviate all problems and that problems exist, contextually, no matter if an idealist or a realist, a pragmatist or a ‘possibilities driven’, a hope or a practical mindset steps in. You take a stand against “awful” and realize the only constant is that problems existed to be addressed, exist to address and will exist to address all to eventually be solved ONLY if both idealism & pragmatism and possibilities & the practical are embraced. The idealism is the spark of possibilities and imagination while the pragmatism stops you from simply being a ‘dreamer’ or wasting resources tilting at windmills.

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“Maybe we feel empty because we leave pieces of ourselves in everything we used to love.”

R. M. Drake

Which leads me to catalyst for good.

There is a huge chasm between awful and good and life, itself, is simultaneously wonderfully good and horribly bad. And even while I believe the arc of life bends toward the good, I also believe that arc is only enabled by people. Life, society, business, kindness, even hate, is fueled by catalysts. The transformation, managing the liminal space, of anything is dependent upon specific catalysts – or let’s call them enzymes. These enzymes are catalysts that remove barriers, speed things up just a bit (or a lot) and unlock the embedded potential for, well, good … not awful. The beauty of catalysts is that they do their work without diminishing themselves meaning that their process, their work, can be repeated again and again. This is the heartbeat of being a catalyst for good. The other beauty of being a catalyst is that the goodness binds so that it can choose its own path even without you having to tag along. Good, in and of itself, is a traveling enzyme and the binding process, once again, repeats itself over and over. The transformation, the arc of good as it were, happens bit by bit. An additional consequence is a sense of belonging. While you may have been the catalyst for good that enzyme is shareable to a point where good belongs to everyone. It makes it easy to stay in good, rather than the awful, and cultivates paths easier for others to travel and easier for everyone to embrace. I believe the future is always defined by the value you, or people, bring to others. Good is additive, awful is subtractive. So maybe instead of awfulizing and catastrophizing, if we believe in unifying around good, we can see the future we desire and begin shaping it not by accepting the awful, but purposefully making it less awful. Ponder.

Written by Bruce