I just spent the week teaching a leadership class with managers from different countries in Africa. They were fun, curious, engaged and spent more time trying to find ways to apply what they learned instead of complaining about what wouldn’t work. It was a dream class for me.
During the celebration dinner, they shared stories about how crazy it is to work in their countries with the corruption, fraud, changing rules, uncertainty and even violence. One participant couldn’t go directly home to Guinea after class because of the violence over a contested election.
What was most amazing to me was how they laughed as they told their stories as if they saw it all as a game they had to figure out. They honored the ingenuity of the Nigerians and their con games, they one-upped each other when sharing silly rules and laws that hampered their work, and in quieter moments they toasted their futures.
I have spent a lot of time in the past few years complaining about my state’s politicians, the subjective fear-mongering media, and the bleak outlook of the future of the United States. On a layover on my way to Africa, I spent a block of time reading about the 2012 catastrophes that are imminent. I am as bad as Chicken Little declaring the sky is falling.
When I get lost in the anger, fear and loss, I forget about the wonderful human spirit that prevails. Yes, the people in my class could have been laughing to cover their fears and tears. I don’t think so. Their sincere good humor showed me the lightness and hope that we must have to carry on.
I may have been the teacher last week, but they taught me a lot about life. I learned:
- When I focus on what is wrong, I miss the beauty of people and places around me no matter what is going on.
- When I feel sorry for other people’s circumstances, I miss their great courage, wit and noble persistence.
- When I get angry for not having things the way I would like, I miss seeing the possibilities for learning and triumphing right now.
- When I miss what was in the past, my regret overpowers my joy.
If you are reading this post, your life is probably far more secure and abundant than what the people in my class are enduring. If we all shift our perspective together, maybe the sky will stay intact and give us a rainbow of hope to follow.