Friday, December 25, 2009

Sometimes, Taking a Positive Approach Means Expecting a Miracle

It’s easy to be dismissive of a situation that looks hopeless or a scenario that seems impossible. “That will never work,” we say, “because first this would have to happen, and then this, and then this.” This approach can be logical enough when you apply it to forces of nature: “A hurricane could never reach the North Pole, because first Quebec would have to be warmer than it has ever been, and then a hurricane from the Atlantic would have to cross Quebec in just the right direction, going as fast as a hurricane can possibly go, and keep going without meeting any crosswinds until it got to the North Pole, and what are the chances of any of that happening?” But it is a mistake to apply this kind of thinking to anything that matters to a specific person.

It is a mistake because it ignores the role of intent. It isn’t so logical to tell an author that his book will never be published because no publisher has ever published a book on that topic, and if a publisher were to do so, there are dozens of people who would be more qualified to write the book, and even if the book were published, the public wouldn’t pay any attention because no one is looking for a book like that. Those may indeed be the circumstances that an author faces, but if the author intends for the book to be published, he may find a way to change each of those circumstances one by one.

People who used that kind of logic to say that a black person could never be president of the United States have had to backtrack. Now they are saying, more accurately, that it took an unprecedented sequence of events for Barack Obama to be elected. But the people who said that if the United States were to elect a black president, it would prove that the country had fundamentally changed, do not have to backtrack; their comments, however skeptical they might have been at the time, look visionary in retrospect.

It is easy enough to change a “That will never work” statement to one that the course of events will not so easily disprove. Change the statement to a positive form, something like, “That could happen if this happened and this happened and this happened, and if any of that happened, that would really be something new and different.”

Sometimes this means you’re asking for a miracle to take place before an outcome can occur. But there is more than a semantic difference between expecting a miracle and saying that something is impossible. It’s a different way of looking at a situation. When you’re looking for something surprising and new to get you to an intended outcome, every now and then, you will find it.