Forgive like an Optimist: The Habits of an Optimist
This was a superb conversation undertaken via Zoom and Facebook in July 2021 to build on the Habits of an Optimist online course produced by Project Optimism and our Habits of an Optimist resources at the Centre for Optimism. Watch the video for inspiration. The Speakers? Singapore-based Joseph Saheb Bakhsh, Stanford's Professor Fred Luskin; Bruce Everett, CEO APAC at World Commerce & Contracting; Bishop Philip Huggins, President of Australia's National Council of Churches; Project Optimism's Noirin Mosley and Jenny Boymal. The anchor host? Victor Perton.
Victor Perton: "Fred Luskin, may I ask what makes you optimistic?"
Fred Luskin: "I thought you would ask that question, and I want it to give it a thoughtful answer, of course being a, like a big-mouth professor. (laughter). I think there are two kinds of optimism, and one is much shallower than the other but easier to do. So there's an everything's going to work out. Everything's going to be fine. That optimism, I think, has a little bit of denial and bypass to it and sometimes lacks a lot of empathy. The deeper optimism that I can see comes from our own grit. And that was going to be my answer to you that when we have persevered when we have handled our life's difficulties, when we show care and compassion for other people, as they go through their difficulties that builds both muscles and memory and in a sense that I can do what life asks of me. And so I guess my answer is some degree of history and grit, but it's got to be lived."
Victor Perton: "Joseph Saheb Bakhsh, may I ask what makes you optimistic?"
Joseph Saheb Bakhsh: "What makes me optimistic? It's hope and faith. As a result of COVID, we are in a state of pause worldwide, and people are getting frustrated. The only thing that we can do is to move forward, to just keep at it, just keep what we are doing, have that hope that things are going to get better and have that faith in your own abilities and your own strength of character to be able to keep going."
Victor Perton: "Bruce Everett, may I ask what makes you optimistic?"
Bruce Everett: "Well, it's hard, Victor; it's hard in these times to be optimistic. When I shared last year, "what makes me optimistic?" It was about our kids. It's about our young people and their potential for greatness, goodness, their sense of social impact and so forth. I worry about them now through COVID with homeschooling and the anxiety and the uncertainty that they face. And this is mass trauma. And to Fred's point about having grit, having that lived experience, and Joseph's point about faith and hope, where do our youth get that from? They haven't lived this long enough actually to build those muscles that Fred talks about. So I do worry about them. I think it will be intergenerational.
"So I remain optimistic. Here in Australia, we had NAIDOC week a couple of weeks ago, which celebrates our Aboriginal and Torres Islander peoples. And for them, they've gone through mass trauma, intergenerational depression, and we're still seeing our indigenous folk who are starting to say, we've gone through that, but we still have something to offer. We've got our gifts of song. We've got gifts of our culture, our experience that we can share with you, and they will still want to bring those gifts.
"I'm optimistic that hopefully, from this mass trauma, our youth will be able to bring something fresh to us. It may not be just the economic pathway. It may not climb the ladder for success because it will be defined differently because of this experience. So I'm optimistic.
"I'm looking forward to what this trauma will generate in our youth for the future."
Victor Perton: "Fred coming back to you, may I ask you what you have learnt, through this COVID experience and its impact on the community and on your community of researchers, teachers, students and people interested in forgiveness as a discipline, as an exercise, as something that we can learn?"
Fred Luskin: Some of it is complex. For example, here in the United States, there's a lot of dissension about what is the appropriate response to the virus. Do you take a vaccine? Do you not take a vaccine? Do you wear a mask? Do you not wear a mask? There's a lot of acrimony about that. So at one level, you see human beings who, like all of us, don't actually know the answer to many of the problems that confront us. And so we have to do the best we can with almost always limited information and, and certain perspectives biases that we all have.
The interesting piece to me is how do you work that stuff out? How do you offer enough respect for people who have different points of view? How do you allow your own point of view not to be so strongly held that you squeeze out everybody else's?
From an optimistic forgiveness point of view, I think there's a fundamental trust that human beings ultimately err towards the positive or move towards the positive, even if it's very slow and halting.
Victor Perton: "Joseph, you're in Singapore. What have you experienced during this COVID period and, you know, people's attitudes to forgiveness?"
Joseph Saheb Bakhsh: "Singapore is one of the countries which has handled the COVID situation pretty well. That's basically due to the factor because it's such a small country. It's 65 kilometres by 45 kilometres.
"As Fred and Bruce referred to earlier, the main thing that has happened in Singapore is a newfound sense of community that has come together in a way that is unlike the Singapore of pre-COVID.
"People in Singapore aren't generally chatty like Aussies, but nowadays, people are opening up.
They are talking to others around them. If they're on public transport or just walking or walking, or at a restaurant, they're talking; they're interacting more.
"They are less on their mobile phones, so to speak, people want to be around other human beings. This increased desire to interact with people face to face appears to be a worldwide phenomenon.
"Singapore's economy has a strong reliance on visitors - business and tourists. And we've had no visitors for like over a year and a half now in Singapore.
"People are getting to learn more about, you know, the internal communities, internal places. I've been to places in Singapore in the last year and a half, which I never knew existed in the previous nine years that I've lived here. Previously we just didn't feel the reason to explore within our own community, so to speak. So it's, it's been very, very interesting.
"However, a sense of frustration is creeping as Singapore has reimposed COVID lifestyle restrictions. We had another cluster three days ago, and everything's, again, closed down. Only two people are allowed to go out to meet someone at home. Dining in restaurants and cafes is not permitted. Work from home has been the default since the beginning of the pandemic. So, you know, and people are getting frustrated. Today I was in a taxi, and the taxi driver was utterly frustrated with the COVID restrictions and changes in restrictions, but that's where adaptability comes in as well."
Victor Perton: "Joseph, the Pope, must have been reading your mind because he tweeted yesterday encouraging people during the European summer break to "turn off the mobile phone to gaze into the eyes of others".
Victor Perton: Now, Bruce, you're at the cutting edge of commerce. What have you seen, you know, with cancelled shipping, cancelled flights or dare I say it, hard-to-get Pfizer deliveries to Australia?"
Bruce Everett: "Victor, we need that forgiveness because we've, we've recognized that we are truly global. We've recognized we're global in our supply chains, as you say, in relation to the supply of vaccines or personal protective equipment, such as masks and scrubs and So on.
"And we've found that we had supply chain diversity and, uh, five alternative suppliers. But, unfortunately, all of those suppliers were based in Wu Han in China, and therefore stocks stopped. So I think we've, we've learned that we are truly global. We've known that, but, uh, this pandemic has shown us how connected we are in that sense, just in terms of getting supplies. And I know there are concerns about pharmaceuticals now. Are we going to have standard pharmaceuticals for people like sufferers of diabetes and so on? So it's that, that strange sense that we're both global and we're local as Joseph said, where we're learning about our local communities were saying, we're all in this together until cross border politics gets in the way.
And we're learning about how we are resilient, and we're strong until we get anxious and our mental health suffers as we're experiencing so much, at least here in Australia, I'm sure around the world.
"So it's that strange sense that we are local and global at the same time.
Certainly, we'd hope that we're getting through the five stages of grief that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross talked about, from blame and anger and denial and bargaining, and we're getting up to accepting.
This is our lot in life, and it's not going to be post-COVID. It's just going to be with COVID going forward.
"But the sixth state that they've now added is around meaning. So what's the meaning we get from this. And that was my concern a year ago. I pondered as we reflect on this in a year's time, will we have forgiveness, not only for the others who have stopped, stopped supply Pfizer vaccines to Australia, for example, or forgiveness for our neighbour who hasn't been wearing their mask or the fourth person that steps in the elevator with us, all these moral dilemmas, where we have forgiveness for others.
"But more importantly, we have forgiveness for ourselves where we have done the best we can in difficult circumstances where we have cared for others as best we could while we have cared for ourselves because this is tough. It's the 800-pound gorilla in the corner, which we have to acknowledge weighs heavily on us even though we want to be perfect and we want to be caring, and we want to be productive at work. So be kind, I suspect, is the learning I've had for the last year's experience."
Victor Perton: "Bishop Phillip Huggins, what are you seeing in terms of COVID and forgiveness?"
Bishop Philip Huggins: "It's a good, good day. Everybody, it's wonderful to listen to you.
"My learning is in symmetry with those that are being shared here. As Bruce just said, looking for the meaning in this.
"The pandemic slowed me down. It slowed all of us down. And when in pause, just to tell a story, I just remembered some of the amazing people I've met. I didn't go looking for them. I just happened to meet them over the last couple of years. And when I thought about them, uh, very different disciplines, different, um, ways of contributing, but, uh, the common thread was this endeavour to bring healing and wholeness and hope into people's lives. And I kind of gathered them all together, and I said to them, we need a culture now that it's more loving, more understanding and more forgiving.
"And, so we've begun this kind of conversation about how we create that cultural shift. So we intentionally create a culture that's more loving, more forgiving, more understanding, a culture in which we choose to heal and not to harm.
"And, the conversation is starting to take off in this period; we're trying to help people find the way that they can have the conversation at a local level. So it's very much consistent with what people are saying here - getting to know neighbours, getting to become more aware of that codependence interdependence at the globalist local, the local is global, and just really be intentional about how we do create a culture that's more loving, more forgiving, more understanding in this gift of life or giving given on our tiny planet in this fast universe. So my reflection has been all these amazing people quietly diligently, perhaps not knowing each other, but now linking them up, linking them up so we can be a force for cultural change, cultural shift."
Jenny Boymal: Fred, would you talk to us about self-forgiveness?
Fred Luskin: "Forgiveness is an interior kind of full-bodied mind, peace with one's own life. It exists separate from an object. So sometimes people re you know, project that opposite towards themselves. Sometimes they project that opposite towards other people. Sometimes they project the opposite towards God or the universe. Forgiveness is releasing all that hostility and judgment and harshness, no matter where it's sent out and returning back inside to a sense of peace with one's own life as it's been lived. And it's a lovely, safe space. And we try to understand it in these cognitive terms of beds, but the interaction, but it's, it's a deeper internal quality of peace and acceptance that doesn't need the object as much as we think it does. "
Nóirín: "Bruce, you touched on forgiveness of others at a macro level and an individual level. So, when I say macro, I mean, I'm looking around at Australia. I'm a new Australian and here for a while now. I've always seen it as the, you know, we are one, we are many, and we're all Australians, and now we're all just states, aren't we?
"I just think there's going to be a lot of forgiveness needed. I believe in this space, from a macro level, mainly. Then it comes from a macro to a micro level or an individual level, particularly when the consequences of people's actions still endure; their actions still have an impact. So, you know, when someone does something wrong to someone individually, you know, it's tough to forgive that person, but then when people are affected in a more macro way from state to state in this case, how can that be managed? You know, how can we do that? We need to forgive somehow, I know, but what are your thoughts around how we can do that, Bruce?
Bruce: "I think if we use the language of mass trauma associated with, COVID-19 not only the health impacts but also the economic impacts as we see with small to medium enterprises, just closing all over the place.
"So, the science of mass trauma talks about the need to acknowledge the event. You need not forget that this has occurred, that this is having an impact on us.
"One way we've moved to forgiveness is to have this discussion, the conversation that Phillip talks about in terms of forgetting and forgiving.
"So, if we just move on from this and we say, okay, it was just another outbreak, and we've moved on, we lose the opportunity to reflect on this trauma individually, corporately and globally that's impacted us. So, we need to have some sort of ceremony, some kind of event to claim this has affected us. Thinking about how do we take it in?
"How do we acknowledge it, and how do we move on from there?
"Desmond Tutu, in his book, talked about there's no future without forgiveness.
"Optimists believe there's a future. That's one of our characteristics, but we need not do it superficially. As Fred said, shallow optimism is easy. It's more important to be a realistic optimist in action.
"Forgiveness is the same. We can't be shallow. It can't just be an act of forgiveness. It needs to be true action. It needs to acknowledge the hurt done to each of us. And then move on,
"I think it is the staging of this healing process that we will have to go through. And we're not at that point; we're still in the midst of this hurt, unfortunately.
Nóirín: Indeed. Do you have any suggestions? What might that, what could that look like as a nation,
Bruce: "I'll introduce you to this book, for example, that I've just picked up off my desk, which is about the healing associated with our indigenous peoples. So, this is 200 years of mass trauma, which we're still trying to work out. How do we deal with that? How do each of us white fellow and black fellow process that and move on? So, we've had statements of the heart, which said, this is where we are and where we want to go in the future. And we want to bring our gifts as indigenous people into mainstream society, but we haven't necessarily had those key events. There's a call for a treaty. For example, the state of Victoria is moving to a treaty. So, key events symbolize the stage that we're at to allow time for reflection.
Bruce: And indeed, Philip in, in our religious world have these rituals of acknowledgement rituals of acceptance, rituals of celebration, conducting a funeral next Monday, ten people, unfortunately with a live stream. But it's very much about here's an event that celebrates this person's life helps the people who are going through the pain or grief and then looks forward with hope and with faith, as Joe has said, to the future. So, we need to have some sort of events where the whole community participates. And we've had that just finish on that. We've had that around our Bush fires, which were devastating in November through to February 2019, 2020; we had concerts that acknowledged our frontline workers' work, in that case, our fire-fighters. So, some of that I think will be helpful to start the process of healing, but this will be intergenerational.
Nóirín: Brilliant. I like that idea. I think there's a lot for us to think about on that alone. And Joseph, do you want to add to that?
Joseph: I fully agree with Bruce, and especially the one word which sums it up is 'acknowledgement'. We have to acknowledge, there is no short-term Band-Aid, you know, you slap on a Band-Aid, and you know, it's going to heal. No, it's intergenerational as is, has very rightly said, it's, it's not it's, we've come to this. It's a long-term thing we can't expect, you know, something to just at the snap of a finger get back to normal. So we've got to accept that this is something that has happened will remain in society within the community for years to come, unfortunately, and we need to acknowledge. The other main element is that we need to have more dialogue with different parties with different views.
"You, you, we, I mean, I think what a lot of countries, what a lot of people see in different regions, especially with COVID is like, you know, people are shutting down people who have an opinion, which is not their own in a way. So I think there needs to be more dialogue. There needs to be more clarity in communication because, you know, two heads are better than one. You know, you may, you may not be doing the best thing possible if you don't take everyone else's into consideration. And that's something which I think, um, you know, ruling parties and different governments worldwide need to take into effect.
"You know, there needs to be, you know, more dialogue. So, let's leave aside politics, let's leave aside all our differences and come together as, as one humanity, one community, and, and try to get this, get through this, you know, as, as, as, as a world community, so to speak, that was listening to the, to the song, heal the world yesterday, you know, by Michael Jackson.
"And it's so true. I mean, it just gave me goosebumps listening to the words. I mean, see, this is what I'm trying to say is like, I mean, we can all talk a great talk, but the thing is how many of us are ready to walk the talk that we talk about. And, and, and that is where, you know, one needs to put their actions into perspective, and they need to, they need to do what they say is the right thing. And that's it. It all boils down to the fact that we all need to, in a way, try and understand that we don't know everything. We could work together with another person who, whose opinions we may not fully agree with, but, you know, there are certain elements, you know, just, take the good aspects of every element, and just have an open conversation and come to a conclusion.
Nóirín: I love that. I really, really love that, Joseph.
Joseph: I lived in Australia for a long time. While living in Singapore, I watch the ABC news every single day on channel seven, channel nine, and I see all the different states blaming each other and come on, what's going on? So, you know, you need to work together on this, right? And it's not just in Australia; it's everywhere in the world. Like for example, in India, we saw massive outbreaks, like 400,000 people daily were being infected houses of people dying yesterday was seeing this news where it says that 4 million people have allegedly died in India in the last couple of months, which is ten times more than what has been officially reported. So this is not the time to point fingers at each other. This is the time to come together as a community and see what you can do for others around you.
Nóirín: I’d love to call Garry up with Ellie. How are you, Ellie? Would you share your thoughts on forgiveness and optimism more broadly?
Garry: Hi, I’ve had my daughter Ellie excluded from her lessons today. I knew that this was a far better investment, in time, for her than attending homeschooling. Being involved in the Centre for Optimism has been an excellent opportunity for her, especially given Ellie is 11 years old.
Garry: Being a designer, I am driven to make things better. Fixing problems and being creative, in doing, is the nature of the work. The same philosophy I extend to life. Having strong beliefs is central to this. Through children being raised in a loving family, life’s beliefs were built and shaped. Life for most people is filled with ups and downs. To use the metaphor of a spring as ones’ life, there are times when it is free moving and other times when life’s challenges compress it. Covid, for many, has seen their spring and wobbliness compressed, and it takes time for the mobility to come back even when there is no longer weight bearing down upon it. Likewise, grieving profoundly affects people, and it takes time for one’s energy to return. To summarise Philip, belief plays a profound role in life, personally and at a macro level.
Bishop Philip: Well, I think it comes down to how we started each day. So, I start the day by saying the prayer and reading the Bible. Then I go for a swim in the ocean. The ocean is quite cool down here in Southern Victoria - it’s a wonderful way of remembering the gift of a new day.
I think it comes down to how we started each day. So I start the day by saying the prayer and reading the Bible. Then I go for a swim in the ocean. A the moment, the sea is quite cool down here in Southern Victoria, but it’s, um, it’s, uh, it’s just an excellent way of remembering the gift of a new day. Uh, here we are on this tiny planet in this vast university end of which still hasn’t been found. With this gift of life, between the mysteries of birth and death and something called eternity. And I think morning rituals help us to refocus on the gift of each new day and the possibility as to what we might do with that new day. And as I swim around in the ocean, keeping an eye out for anything that looks like a fin (laughter), it helps, it helps me begin each day well,
Garry: On a similar, note I once attended an event about sales. A very accomplished sales professional, the presenter used an analogy that saw each of his sales prospects with an imaginary bucket beside them he filled with kind, thoughtful gestures. A paying forward of sorts. As the bucket filled, he knew the chances of a sale increased. If we use the same analogy to optimism, the more we fill our bucket and those of others, the more optimism there is out there. If it helps people, perhaps the bucket analogy is a good one to how they conduct their life and the benefits it has upon others their optimistic habits have upon them.
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