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Op-eds

It’s hard to be optimistic, but it’s much more fun

  • Howard Feldman 2018
I know I’m harping on about this, but it’s that important. Our negativity is killing us. We need to change the narrative before someone gets hurt. It’s worth noting that it’s not just the Jewish community which appears to be in a perpetual state of angst, but pretty much most of the country. There is finally acknowledgment that we are collectively very, very sad.
by HOWARD FELDMAN | Aug 22, 2019

In the past week alone, I have been asked to talk about this on Radio Islam, whose market is obviously the Muslim community, as well as 702, which targets a cross section of the Johannesburg public. This is aside from the messages I receive on my own show on ChaiFM every morning, where listeners try – and I believe they really do – to join me in being upbeat and laugh a little.

But it’s not easy.

It certainly wasn’t easy on 702 at 22:30 on Sunday evening to give people something to grasp on to, and it’s not easy in the cold light of morning. But it’s worth trying. Why? Because studies have shown that:

  • Optimists live longer. They exercise more, and “wish” themselves to better health.
  • Optimists sustain better relationships because every long-term relationship is in fact a triumph of optimism over experience.
  • Optimists do better in business. Imagine investing with someone who says, “This venture is likely to fail, but would you consider getting involved?”
  • More than that, optimists are happy, and that beats the miserable alternative any day of the long and tiring week.

There is no arguing that South Africans have reason to be a tad down. The rand is plummeting, the African National Congress is biting the flesh out of itself, and the economy is on life support. Worse than that, there are rumours that just about everyone is leaving, and even exhuming dead relatives in a bizarre twist to the “leave no one behind” adage.

Of course, this is all anecdotal, and whereas there is no doubt that some are making aliyah, it’s not true of the whole community. So it’s probably best that we calm down.

Sunday gave me a different perspective. After meeting friends for coffee in the glorious sunshine, I went to talk at Limmud. It was full, it was vibrant, and it was positive. Following a family lunch (outside again), I went to the Helping Hands Poker event, where hundreds of youngsters packed into a hall to have fun (read drink) in aid of charity.

Anyone who opened their eyes would have seen the incredible amount of energy and positivity in the room, and observed that it can’t be quite as bad as we think it is. Because of my intense schedule, I missed the opening of the Chai Lifeline, a 24-hour helpline staffed by committed community members that’s opening next week.

It’s hard to feel negative if one just looks in the right direction.

Because I will be told (again) that denial isn’t a good thing, I reiterate that I don’t subscribe to the deliberate repudiation of all things negative. But I do subscribe to perspective and to living with nuance. I subscribe to the belief that nothing is all good in the same way that it’s not all bad. It can’t be. At weddings, in the height of our joy, we smash a glass.

Maybe now, in the depth of our misery, we need to remember that there is joy. Besides, I can assure you, it’s a much more pleasant place to live.

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