Lawrence W. Reed (Larry Reed) joined us to talk about his Optimism in the Optimism Cafe at The Centre for Optimism with Jeff Kerr-Bell and Victor Perton.
Lawrence W. Reed is the President Emeritus of the Foundation for Economic Education, the Humphreys Family Senior Fellow and Ron Manners Global Ambassador for Liberty.
Victor Perton: "The first question we always ask at The Centre for Optimism is, "What makes you optimistic?" What makes you optimistic, Larry?"
Larry Reed: "Well, several things, Victor and Jeff. One, of course, is my faith because it teaches me that justice, goodness, and accountability will emerge victorious in the end.
"I am confident that that will arrive at some point in the future: Whether I'm alive to see it or whether it comes later is another matter.
"Another reason I am optimistic is my knowledge of history tells me that people move forward to progress, to be better and leave the world a better place than they found it.
"They have to be optimistic because pessimism is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you're pessimistic, you've admitted that you'll lose whatever your cause may be before you finish the fight; what's the point? It simply assures that you will lose the effort you're immersed in.
Read More: "A Bubbly Optimism: The Optimism of Lawrence W. Reed"
Victor Perton: "What makes you feel optimistic? What do you see and do those things that bring you joy in the day, that restore and fulfill your optimism?"
Larry Reed: "Pessimism is another way of saying that other people are in charge of my life, and in my case, I don't believe that for a second.
"I believe I'm in charge of my life.
"And, of course, like anyone, I'm buffeted by the decisions, circumstances, and events of the day that other people influence. But at the end of it all, I'm still in charge.
"So I can choose to do those things that keep me optimistic and make me happy. I'm not anyone's slave, so it makes me optimistic knowing that whatever happens tomorrow, I'm largely in control and can eschew those bad things that might hold me back or drag me down.
Victor Perton: Shania Twain has a new album called Queen of Me, of which she said, "Finding optimism and really holding myself responsible for my frame of mind. I started writing lyrics that made me smile and laugh and melodies and rhythms that made me want to dance, and it worked."
So you and Shania Twain are on song together today.
Larry Reed: Shania Twain said it so much better than me.
Read More: "Optimism Helps Shania Twain Write Songs which Make her Smile and Laugh"
Victor Perton: What makes you optimistic for liberty?
Larry Reed: "I remember meeting people active in anti-communist underground movements in places like Poland in 1986 when I went to Poland. And for decades before, they were fighting the good fight without any inkling that success was just around the corner. If you had said to anybody you might have met in the Eastern European satellite countries of the old Soviet Union as late as 19, say 88, that within a year, they would be liberated and free, they would've said, "What? Well, there must be some events in the works that I can't foresee." Very few people saw it coming. And yet when I think back to my many meetings with such people, they were so optimistic.
"They didn't know when freedom might come, but they knew that it was worth fighting for, that it was a noble cause, that, at the very least, they would instil in later generations the desire to see it happen, and that would someday make it happen. And so I think back to those days and those travels, those meetings, and I asked myself, how can I be pessimistic when those people faced such oppression? They practically didn't see the light at the end of the tunnel until the very last moment, yet they maintained their optimism. And in fact, that was one of the reasons that freedom ultimately prevailed because those people were optimistic and never gave up. And when the communists told them they would live under communism forever, they didn't accept that dictate."
Jeff Kerr-Bell: I like the idea that optimism begets optimism and, as you say, pessimism begets pessimism. And so I like the idea that you talked about leading with optimism, which inspires others to follow. So one of the questions I was inspired to ask was, who are the leaders that have inspired you? I suspect very strongly that they will be optimistic leaders, so who are the leaders that inspired you and why?
Larry Reed: "Well, one is a man well known for his sunny optimism, President Ronald Reagan.
"I met President Reagan on several occasions and had lunch with him once at the White House. And that sunny optimism came through on every occasion.
"Wherever he was, it seemed Reagan had an infectious smile. He felt that a smile and good humour expressed the view that the world could be a better place: Don't give up; you have to work to do to make it so. Stick to your guns. And when you decide what your principles are and if they are in the right, people of character should not give up on those. Instead, they should continue to work on them, and ultimately those ideals can prevail if they do."
"I never met the Polish hero Witold Pilecki, but he's probably the bravest, most courageous person, man or woman I have ever encountered in my historical research.
"I included a chapter about him in my book called "Real Heroes".
"He was very active as a soldier on behalf of the Polish Underground after the Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939 from the West. And he continued to fight when the Soviets invaded two weeks later. And he did that for a year or two, as I recall when the Polish underground began to realise something was happening at this massive complex that the Germans built near Krakow. And we have reason to believe they thought that some of our people are being taken there; we need to get somebody on the inside. Well, that place turned out to be Auschwitz, perhaps the most notorious of many Nazi concentration camps. Witold Pilecki volunteered to enter the site.
"He was the only person we know, whoever volunteered to get arrested by the Germans in the hope that they wouldn't just shoot him and that maybe they'd send him to Auschwitz so that he could perhaps, from the inside, create some resistance or smuggle out information, documentation, whatever, to tell the world about what was going on there.
"Well, he got his wish. He got arrested and sent to Auschwitz, and he created a very effective underground that smuggled out documents there. They even made a simple radio transmitter and were broadcasting: Some of the inmates led by Pilecki broadcasting from inside Auschwitz! And he engineered what only about 140 other people did, an escape from Auschwitz after being there for a couple of years.
"And then he went to Warsaw in time to participate in the Battle of Warsaw, fighting hard there.
"He was captured a second time by the Germans and found after the war in a concentration camp or a prisoner of war camp when the Soviets invaded from the East. And for a brief moment in the summer of 45, with the war over, he was free, but then the Polish Underground Army sent him to Italy.
"And by September of 45, they realised that the Soviets didn't look like they were going to leave Poland, and they needed somebody on the inside to go spy on them. Well, who better than Witold Pilecki? So they sent him back to Poland, and for almost three years, he spied on the Soviets and got information out until, ultimately his cover was blown. He was put on a show trial, and the Soviets finally executed him.
"But wow, what an example of moral and physical courage.
"The information he smuggled out of Auschwitz once assembled became known as Witold's Report, the first eyewitness accounts of what was happening inside the most notorious Nazi concentration camps. So how could you not be inspired by that man's courage?"
Jeff Kerr-Bell: "That's incredible. Incredible optimism to drive really the choices that he made that you look at them today and with the benefit of all of our knowledge of the history, and think he had to have incredible optimism to want to make those choices believing that something good would happen at the end. So that's amazing."
Larry Reed: "He had a wife, a daughter, and a son. So when he went off to spy and for the time he was in Auschwitz, he didn't see them. And I'm very happy to say that about six years ago, I had the great pleasure of meeting with his son in Warsaw, who remembered his father very well and also went to his father's trial in 1948, only to see his father sentenced to death.
Jeff Kerr-Bell: "And did he have his father's optimism? Did you sense that the family had inherited it or gone the other way?"
Larry Reed: "Yes, and he was bubbly about it, too, because he knew Poland had become a better place after so many decades of oppression. He knew that it could continue to improve. He knew that free people were destined to do wonderful things. And he was very eager to share his father's story with me. And because he just thought that if more people knew that story, they, too, would muster the courage and optimism to fight for what they knew to be right.
Jeff Kerr-Bell: "Very much a validation point and a proof point of his father's optimism really is the current state of Poland or certainly at the time. And one of the other things that really fascinated to hear more, you tell a story of an event in your life that confirmed your optimism."
And it's interesting, a few of us have moments in time and moments in our lives which we do tend to be challenged, or the optimism is challenged, and we have other moments where it's confirmed. What event confirmed your optimism, and when did it occur?
Larry Reed: "It happened in February of 1980. So I was born in 53, so I would've been in my late twenties, and I was living in Michigan at the time.
"But in the way of background, I remember growing up in Pennsylvania, so many relatives, even my parents, would say things like, "You always see the glass half full. You are so optimistic, whenever there's something bad that happens, you're the first to see the good in it or how it can be turned to advantage."
"So I always had a streak of optimism in me. I'm unsure where it came from, but relatives noted it and told me about it.
"Well, in February of 1980, I was driving on a very icy morning to work at Northwood University, where I was teaching, and a man was coming from the other direction toward me in his car, and he had his left turn signal on.
"So I knew he wanted to turn in a side street, but I assumed he'd wait until I passed through. But at the last minute, he decided he had time to turn right in front of me. So I swerved to miss his car, and there was a ravine, not a vast thousand-foot chasm, but a ravine on the left side of the road. And I lost control of my car, and the car headed down into the ravine, which rolled two or three times before it ended up upside down at the bottom of the ravine. And I crawled out of the driver's side window, which had broken out and crawled up to the top to see if the other guy was okay. But I remember exactly how I felt as I lost control of the car and headed into that ravine; I was surreally calm.
"I know this because I wondered about it for years afterwards, like, gee, that wasn't normal. I should have been terrified. But I was completely calm and serene about it. And what popped into my head at that moment was the thought, I'm going to get a new car out of this. And I did. So yeah, my car was totalled, so I got a brand new car out of it.
"So that confirmed in my mind that I had something in me. I don't know, as I say, where it came from, maybe my parents instilled it in me, but I've always felt that I was an optimist at heart, perhaps a pathological one, but I think it has served me very well over the years."
Jeff Kerr-Bell: That's a fantastic story.
Victor Perton: As you come from Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman, of course, his school of positive psychology fostering optimism is headquartered there. Maybe there's a connection, something in the air or the water 😊
Larry Reed: "There could well be. I lived near Pittsburgh on the western side of the state.
"I remember as a teenager reading Norman Vincent Peale, another pathological optimist. So too, Dale Carnegie. Some of their optimism rubbed off on me too.
Victor Perton: "Norman Vincent Peale's book The Power of Positive Thinking, if you read it today, it is so modern. He advocates meditation, self-reflection..."
Larry Reed: He was ahead of his time. Those practices only came to the fore some years after he started writing about them. Optimism is one of those things that adds years to your life because it creates the mental well-being that has a beneficial physical effect as well.
Victor Perton: "Well, the science is there now. Harvard, the American military, Boston University, American Heart Association all say that optimism is the key protective trait against the three major mortalities, cancer, heart disease, and dementia. And most importantly for the doctors, it's the key predictor of recovery. So you are in for a 120-year life, as my friend John Hagel would advocate."
The Global Battle: Optimism v Pessimism
Victor Perton: I want to throw some thoughts at you on the global battle between optimism and pessimism.
"I don't know if you've ever heard the music of Michael Franti, but it's an R&B positive, and he's currently touring Australia. And he said this, "I believe the great battle that's taking place in the world isn't between left and right. It's between cynicism and optimism. There are people who believe it's possible to create a better life and a better world. When we lose that sense of optimism is when we quit, when we give up." And more recently in the British Conservative Party battle for who would be Prime Minister Penny Mordaunt who lost but is now the leader in the House of Commons, said, "The fault line in politics at the moment is not between left and right, but between optimists and pessimists, we need optimists for the next tough shift."
"And then the last person I quote is Tharman Singapore's senior minister, who I spent some time with at the G20. He made a speech last year where he said, "One of the greatest public policy issues in the world is the collapse of optimism in the developed world."
"And he set out the challenge to all of us to create cases for optimism.
"So one of the reasons we set up the Centre for Optimism is our perception that there is a zeitgeist of pessimism in the popular media. In fiction, you have dystopia rather than utopia. So what's your view coming from a position where Ronald Reagan and the Polish freedom fighters are your models, but this argument that it's not between left and right anymore, it's between those who believe in a better world and those who are cynical and pessimistic."
Larry Reed: Oh, there's a lot of truth to that, Victor. I see it when I survey what I must do because of my job and our time's economic and moral thinking. Most of my work involves economics and the teaching of it. And as a believer in freedom and free markets, in combining that with economics, I can't help but notice that those who argue for just the opposite, for government control, for centralisation, for the concentration of power, their message is essentially a very pessimistic one. Their message tells people, "You can't handle life alone. You need to be told what to do. And I'm one of the smart people who can do that and do it well, even if my personal life is already a mess that doesn't seem to stop them most of the time."
"It's a very pessimistic message; the government must run your life for you because you're not smart enough to do so yourself.
"I look back at the great heroes in the world, but in my country in particular, since I know it best, I think of so many people who came from nothing and made something of themselves. They couldn't have done that if they'd been pessimistic and told from the start, "You can't go anywhere without our help." Or, as Obama said to American entrepreneurs, "You didn't build that." That pessimistic thinking that implies somebody else has to tell you what to do because you're too dumb to do it is fundamentally at odds with what makes humans progress.
"And so I find myself, in making a case for freedom and free markets, I'm constantly trying to unwind the pessimism that I see in so many people who think that they're just worthless until a government program comes along and makes something of them."
Victor Perton: "We ask the question, what makes you optimistic? As you know and it just lifts people. Yesterday I spoke to an audience of a hundred people and had enough time to get 60 of them to share what makes them optimistic. And Megumi Miki the Japanese author said just being asked the question lifts me. So our research focuses on what makes you optimistic and brings us great joy."
Transformation and Change
Jeff Kerr-Bell: Larry, we've researched transformation and change, particularly the role of optimistic leadership in contributing to greater success in transformation and change. And as Victor mentioned upfront, various consulting firms have looked at transformation projects and found that 60% to 70%, depending on the research on transformation projects, fail. And one of our hypotheses going into that is what is the role of optimistic leadership or leadership, and can optimistic leadership make a difference? And we continue to explore that topic in that theme. In addition, we've done some surveys around what people want from their transformation and change or what people feel is the main element that might drive success in their future business environment, including those projects.
"This research was at the back end of COVID, and the results must be looked at through that lens.
"The research shows that people wanted a blend of the human and the leadership aspects, not just the measured and the more business execution measures of success built into projects and transformation and the change and business. And how have you found with your work on economic success at the broader level, but also at a smaller corporate level? You may have worked at that level with your economic models and leadership. What role does positive leadership play in the success of any of those economic initiatives or the initiatives you've looked at?"
Larry Reed: "Leadership is critical, and that's not because people are born followers, but instead, they want motivation from someone who can give them the right direction and empower them to help make it happen.
"One of the areas that I've spent considerable time studying over the years is the cause of abolitionism, the end of slavery within the British Empire. And two of the significant figures of that great movement were powerful optimists. And they cited their optimism as one of the things that kept them going.
"And I'm talking about William Wilberforce, the member of the British Parliament who introduced a bill every year for 20 years until it finally passed to abolish the slave trade. And his right-hand man was Thomas Clarkson, who gathered the evidence and travelled by horseback some 35,000 miles in those 20 years all over Britain, Scotland, and Wales, gathering testimony and documentation.
"All along the way, they had a lot of powerful forces working against them. In fact, when they started out, they had everything against them. In 1787, the first year they had parliament against them, they had public opinion against them and history against them because slavery had been around forever. Public opinion was of the view that slavery was natural. It's always been here; some must live at the lash of another. And anybody who suggested in 1787 that Britain abolish it was laughed off the stage. And all along the way, they could have thrown in the towel when they had a setback.
"Then, in the 1790s after scoring some growth in the number of parliamentarians willing to support their cause, Britain went to war with France. Their opposition declared, "Well, you abolitionists, you would just hand the slave trade to the French. You're traitors."
"That was a low point for them, but they never lost their optimism.
"And that kept the movement together, and people focused on the prize. And ultimately maybe more than anything else, that's why they won in 1807 by abolishing the slave trade. They didn't give up on their efforts to abolish slavery. That took another 26 years and finally came in 1833. If they hadn't been optimistic in the face of repeated failures and very powerful opposition, maybe that wouldn't have happened, but they changed the world and never thought that they couldn't do it.
Jeff Kerr-Bell: And that's fantastic. I've heard of William Wilberforce and many success stories, modern and some older. We hear about success, but you don't hear about the optimism underpinning leadership, persistence, and overcoming challenges. Knowing that a bill to the parliament took 20 years to "get up" should give some of our Australian politicians a bit of optimism for what they do, rather than giving up the first time they take a bill to be voted on. That's a fantastic story.
Larry Reed: "It took 20 years just to get the slave trade abolished, another 26 to get slavery abolished. So for people like Wilberforce and Clarkson, that was a 46-year battle. Yet, they never gave up."
Jeff Kerr-Bell: "And succeeded in the end. So that's fantastic.
The Future of Work
Jeff Kerr-Bell: Another question we've asked is, "What makes you optimistic about the future of work?"
"And it's rather timely now with what we hear about the advances in AI. And some people fear it, and some people are optimistic, and indeed I side with the optimists on harnessing it. But it does have real risks.
"In terms of the future of work and where you see that playing out, how do you apply your optimism to the environments that we are in, the environment that you are in, and the future of work from your eyes?"
Larry Reed: "I'm in the persuasion business, you might say, in the sense that I am trying to sell ideas of strong personal character, individual liberty, responsibility and free enterprise. And so I have to convince others that these are virtues worthy of their support.
"I long ago decided that a pessimistic outlook would not serve that end.
"Nobody knows the future; however, if you are pessimistic about it before it's ever happened, you've given up. As I say, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy.
"So what makes me optimistic is the fact that people have overcome enormous odds in the past, and sometimes they did it almost at the twinkling of an eye, or at least significant changes didn't seem evident until they just about happened. And you look back and try to explain why all that occurred. And I don't know of a single instance where I could say, "Well, it happened because everybody was pessimistic and expected to fail."
"No, it happened because optimism was a core component of their way of thinking. So please don't give up on the future before it's even happened, or you'll wish you never did because you'll help bad things occur."
Jeff Kerr-Bell: As you say, it allows us to create it rather than let it happen to us.
Despair and Tragic Optimism
Victor Perton: "This morning, I read a sermon by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the loss of optimism through despair. His story was about the apostles and the garden of Gethsemane, and they were thrown into despair, which destroyed the optimism they had.
"I wouldn't argue against the archbishop of Canterbury on despair and optimism. But I contrast that with Viktor Frankl, and you've talked about the Holocaust today, but Viktor Frankl, the German psychotherapist who wrote Man's Search for Meaning, coined the phrase Tragic Optimism. And if I can summarise it without a script in front of me, he talked about doing your best in whatever circumstances you find yourself in, whether in a concentration camp or living in paradise, as we do here in Australia, do your best.
Larry Reed: "Historically, there have been many moments when despair seemed entirely justified.
"And I'm thinking of one in particular in American history, the tragic winter at Valley Forge, 1777, 78, which was a real low point in the American War for Independence. So many soldiers at Valley Forge froze to death or had limbs amputated because of frostbite. They had a terrible disease; they didn't know where their next meal would come from or how they could emerge victorious in this battle against the British Empire. But they didn't give up and didn't allow their despair, if you call it that, to run their lives. That's because they had latched on to a cause they knew was right. And good people of solid character, when they find worthy causes, should rejoice in that. They should realise this is what I'm here for.
"I don't think any human was put on the earth to despair. On the contrary, I think we were put here to live to our fullest potential, to achieve great heights of achievement, to go places and use the talents and the characteristics that each of us has, improve on them, hone our skills and leave the world a better place one way or the other, no matter what the circumstances may be along the way. So that's a very uplifting view of life to start with.
"So if I were in a situation today that might justify despair, I would think to myself, how would sitting here bemoaning my plight solve it in any way?
"How would it be an example for someone else?
"How could it benefit someone else if I just sit here and complain about my circumstances?
"It wouldn't. So at the very least, for the sake of others who might be observing, I want to show them that I am still in charge of my life and I'm going to make the best of it, and I'm going to be an example to the best of my ability so that others will say, "Wow, whether we ever met him or not, wow, just what we know of that person that is an inspiration."
"Others will make life better because of your example. So that's yet another reason not to despair. And also, I tell people one of the things that are very healthy to do in your spare time is to find biographies of great men and women who have been optimistic and of solid character and left the world a better place.
"That's a very motivational, inspirational thing to do: read great biographies. And I do it all the time."
Victor Perton: "So for us, one of the things we often say is optimism is a state of mind, not a state of the world. And people don't get that. They confuse optimism with happiness, and they confuse optimism with joy.
"Mother Julian of Norwich lived through the Black Plague and wrote, "All shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well."
"And had she lived 700 years, she could have written the Harvard Medical School definition of optimism, which is a belief that good things will happen and that things will work out in the end.
"And that's one of the struggles of communication because frequently being optimistic is used as a pejorative rather than a matter of praise. So that's where we sometimes irritate some people, especially pessimists, by constantly advocating optimism, even in the most challenging times.
"And I don't know your views on the Ukrainian war: Zelensky was interviewed by Fareed Zakaria, and Zakaria said to him, "How do you stay so optimistic in the face of such evil?" And Zelensky, like you said, "It's because I believe in people. My people and the people of the world."
"I saw a poll yesterday; 90% of the Ukrainians believe they will win and will win because they think they will win. So again, this war is Putin and his pessimistic view of the Western world versus Zelensky and his people and their optimistic belief in liberty and freedom."
Larry Reed: "Any General, who goes into battle, any good one will tell you that he wants his troops to believe in success. He doesn't want them to go into battle, already having given up, already having decided what the future that hasn't happened yet, is going to be, and that it's going to be a bad one. So you don't win battles that way of any kind.
"You put it well when you said this is all about the mind, not the world.
"You mentioned Victor Frankl, who spent all that time in a concentration camp.
"What must the world have looked to him when he was in that concentration camp?
"And if that were the only factor in deciding his mental state, he would've given up immediately because it had to look dark in those years and inside that camp. But he didn't. And all these years after his passing, we have people worldwide inspired by A Man's Search For Meaning, his primary book. So he sure left the world a better place because he was in it. And he wouldn't have done that had he been a pessimist; he would've given up from the start."
Jeff Kerr-Bell: That last note certainly leaves us with a wonderful and inspiring way of looking at the world and, as you say, to leave the world a better place and use our optimism, which we see as our superpower, to apply that and share it and use that as our influence and impact on the world. So thanks very much, Larry.
Larry Reed: "Most pessimists, even if they were honest for a moment, would tell you that they'd rather sit in on a meeting of optimists than a meeting of fellow pessimists."
Victor Perton: "In Australia, the typical greeting is, "Good day, how are you?" And the typical response is, "Not bad" or "Not too bad." A wasted greeting and wasted answers.
"So our intervention that we've done in prison and hospitals is to ask people to eliminate the question, "How are you?" And replace it with, "What's been the best thing in your day?"
"And among my funniest experiences of that advocacy was at the local supermarket. I first started advocating that change of greeting when we were wearing masks, and this fellow looked at me post-mask, and he said, "You're the guy that told me to change my greeting?" And I said, "Yeah." He said, "Oh God, I don't have time to listen to all those good stories." It Was the loveliest Australian backhander."
Larry Reed: Well, you made me think of something that the founder of the foundation, I'm associated with the Foundation For Economic Education. I knew him for the last seven years before he died in 1983. His name was Leonard Reid, no relation! 😀 But he was known for saying a particular line when anyone complained about the weather. If he was speaking at a service club and it was pouring out, down, raining outside, lightning thundering or a snowstorm, whatever. He would have people who would come up and say, "Wow, what a bad day", or "Have you looked out the window? Oh, what a terrible day."
"He would immediately say, "No, it's a great day."
"And after a pause, he would say, "Every day is a great day."
"And then, after a further pause, he would say, "That's my way of showing appreciation for the fact that at least when it comes to the weather, God and not the government is in charge." And then invariably, people would say, "Oh, well yeah, that's a good thought. So tell me, what do you do for a living?"
"And then, he would have an opportunity to share his thoughts on things like the role of government and personal liberties. All prompted by that remark about the weather.
Victor Perton: "You are an inspiration. Is there anything we haven't asked you that we should have asked you?"
Larry Reed: "We all have foes, we all have enemies, and we should work to have fewer of them, and we should not generate them by our own misbehaviour.
"But if you can think of people who are a not very good character, and they oppose you because they are advocating something very different that you believe is harmful, well, take some delight in knowing that being a person who stands for what is right, probably needles them more than anything else you could do. So every day, I think to myself, well, those who argue for things like government control of our lives are probably very unhappy with me today. Well, that's perfectly all right. That makes me happier knowing that I've done my job. I can do it so much better that I can convince even them to come around."
Larry Reed: "I remember one of the moving moments of my first visit to Poland when it was under communist rule was in November of 1986. And my escorts, who were taking me to meet with people who are active in the underground, hoping to stay a step ahead of the government all along the way, one evening they said, "We have an extraordinary couple we want you to meet the Romaczewskis."
"I had never heard their names; I knew nothing about them. But as it was explained to me, they had run underground radio preaching a message of freedom for Poland in the first six months of martial law, which was declared by the communist regime back in December of 81 until they were arrested in the middle of 82 and given prison sentences, he was given four years in prison. She was given three.
"Neither one had been out of prison long when I met with them in 1986. And here they were active again in the underground, not in radio, but in other ways. And I spent that evening asking them many questions and finding they were incredibly optimistic. I said things like, "How do you know if you can win? I mean, you're up against the army and navy in the air force of the evil Empire, the Soviet Union." And that's pretty daunting odds and didn't matter to them because freedom for their beloved Poland meant everything to them. And at one point, I said, "Well, when you were broadcasting on that illegal radio, how did you know if people were listening?" And Sophia answered, and by the way, she's still living. She answered this way. She said, "Well, we wondered that as well. We could only broadcast for eight or 10 minutes at a time, and then we had to tear the radio down, and take it someplace else. Hopefully, we wouldn't be traced."
"They ultimately were. But they did this for six months, set the radio up at the new place and broadcast for a few minutes again. But she said, "One evening, we ask people on the air, if you are listening to this broadcast, and if you believe in freedom for Poland, please go to your windows and blink your lights and call your friends who may be of the same view and ask them to do the same." And she then said, in a very matter-of-fact way, we went to the window, and all of Warsaw was blinking for hours. That was a terrible time for those people, but they remained optimistic that freedom would prevail, and they didn't know. But less than three years later, they were free.
"And they couldn't have known how many people, just me alone have told that story to, that found some inspiration in what they told me. So you never know. They told me a story that I know has inspired people in all the countries where I have shared that in the years since."
Jeff Kerr-Bell: Thanks. One of our colleagues Kay Clancy always talks about ripples: Kay Clancy talks about making ripples. And that's really what we've been talking about here, is making optimistic ripples in life, and hopefully, they flow on and move other people towards optimism. So that's certainly a sentiment that captures the moment quite well.
Victor Perton: And Kay shares a song Wednesdays and Saturdays, music for optimism. And going back to your philosophy for liberty, wasn't that something you advocated, more singing, dancing, and love?
Larry Reed: "Absolutely. Yes. Think of those Baltic states and the singing revolution that brought freedom to Estonia, but so powerful as well to Lithuania and Latvia. Yeah. Singing Lifts the Heart. It is optimistic almost by its very nature."
Read More: "A Bubbly Optimism: The Optimism of Lawrence W. Reed"
Read More: Anne Frank and Christian Larson Teach Us the Power of Optimism
Larry blogs at www.lawrencewreed.com and it's well worthwhile subscribing!
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