Imagine, if you will, two towns: Cynicsville and Pollyannatown. Two towns beset by troubles large and small. And yet the residents of these towns look at their troubles in decidedly different ways.
The residents of Cynicsville feel they’ve seen it all. No matter what the turn of events – good or bad — they know where it’s going: Downhill. And fast. There is no reason to feel hopeful, because all hopes are eventually dashed. There is not reason to try to make things better because eventually it all winds up in the dump. They know themselves and their fellow human beings to be decidedly selfish and cruel. They distrust everyone. Even themselves. In Cynicsville the town is falling to pieces. Why try to improve it if it will eventually fall to pieces all over again? No one reaches out to help another human being, because they know that eventually their good will is going to be exploited. They’re not bad people, the residents of Cynicsville. They don’t mean to harm anyone. They are just tired of being disappointed by life. Therefore, if they imagine the worst, they are never disappointed. When something goes wrong, the residents of Cynicsville just shake their heads and wryly smile, “See? I told you,” they say, “What else did you expect?” Upon leaving Cynicsville, you will see a sign that reads, “Leaving Cynicsville. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.”
And then there are the residents of Pollyannatown. On the outskirts of town you’ll see a sign that says, “Welcome to Pollyannatown. I’m sure everything’s going to be okay. Just don’t ask me how!” Strangely, Pollyannatown is in the same state of disrepair. Houses have fallen into rubble, and their residents sit in their living rooms, assaulted by wind and rain, smile at one another and say, “I’m sure this house will fix itself soon.” The residents walk about, all skin and bones, and stare with vague grins on their faces at plots of land where not a seed has been planted and tell one another, “I am sure something will grow here eventually.” The residents of Pollyannatown are not unintelligent, they simply have forgotten that pain, decay, and suffering are a very real part of life – and that it takes more than a sunny attitude to turn things around.
You and I don’t have to settle in either of these communities. There’s a vast expanse between them in which we can move. We can look at life straight on without falling prey to cynicism or feeling the need to play pretend. We can see challenges and know we are empowered to make effective and long-lasting change. And knowing that we are empowered, we can look at difficulty without denying it. Of course it is tempting to settle in these towns. Just pick an attitude and stick with it. And no matter what happens, you never have to adjust it. Simple? Yes. Dangerous. Also yes.
It is much more challenging, engaging, and ultimately fulfilling to travel the roads between Cynicsville and Pollyannatown. You will see pain. You will also see wonders. You will feel hurt. You will also feel joy. You will know your own power and your own agility and you will use it to turn when you need to take a detour. Heck, you may just want to get out and fix the road yourself.