The rain was torrential, our meeting was last minute and I wondered if anyone was going to show. Community Connectors are used to this feeling – we rarely pick the people we work with up at their homes because we believe that if we did, we would be robbing them of opportunities to manage their own schedules, build their transit skills, and practise punctuality. Waiting and wondering if/when participants of BCC are going to show up is familiar, but this time I was feeling fairly confident – the people we had invited were all folks who had been identified as folks who embody having a Positive Outlook.
Through our research on resilience, our findings from our Impact Evaluations and our experiences over the last four years, we believe that this thing – for lack of better words, this Positive Outlook – plays an important role in people feeling motivated to initiate and maintain friendships while engaging with their communities. It also surfaces over and over in the blogosphere where people are exploring how to build resilience. It’s a starting place – we use ‘Positive Outlook’ as an overarching term to encompass love, trust, courage, optimism, hope, faith, and feeling worthy. It’s having knowledge of possibilities, aspirations and coping strategies for when life gets you down. It’s about having a sense of purpose and believing that you are going to be okay…no matter what life presents.
So how do we explore this concept with the folks we work with, especially people who struggle with depression, anxiety, low self-esteem? That was the question on the table, and the reasoning behind gathering the group together on that rainy day in February. What can we learn from the people we work with who maintain a positive outlook? And despite the cold, the rain and the fact that no one had been to Tangent Cafe before, almost everyone showed up. We ate french fries, talked about what having a Positive Outlook meant to us, shared our struggles, and offered up advice and strategies.
One concept that kept surfacing was self-care and self-compassion. One woman shared that every night she writes down the all positive things that happened that day – “my mind easily goes to negative places and because of that I have a lot of anxiety – by remembering the good things in each day, I can retrain my mind.” Another woman talked about how dance was her creative platform for expression and helps keep herself staying positive because “I can articulate thoughts and feelings through dance that I can’t articulate with words – it helps me channel negativity.” We talked about how learning to become our own best friend is important because “we are with ourselves 24/7, so we can cheer ourselves up when we are down” and “how can others experience all of our good qualities, if we don’t know them ourselves?”
One woman shared how her experiences with grief have become a source of her resilience. By acknowledging and processing her sadness, she is able to maintain an overall positivity – “it’s okay to be sad…in spite of tragic losses, I am open to trying new things.” Positive outlook isn’t about focusing only on positivity and happiness, it’s about engaging with the ups and downs in life with honesty and embracing our authenticity. Through trusting ourselves – and for some trusting the universe or God – we find the courage to step up and remain open to possibility.
Keeping hope was a common thread in the conversation. Hoping that “I can be better”; “I can be more calm”; “I can get off my medication.” Desmond Tutu said that “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite the darkness.” Hope – and our role in deciding how to see and be in the world – surfaced when a woman shared a story about her Kudoz experience where she was welcomed into the home of newlyweds. She talked about how special the two hosts’ relationship was. “It was so lovely to be around them – and when I left I started feeling very lonely and sorry for myself, but instead of going there, I decided to just feel hopeful instead – if these two found each other and a happy home, I know that I can do too. It’s something to look forward to.” The learning here is that hope is not passive – it’s something that we can create. Hope sparks action. After a two-hour conversation about these beautiful and important things, someone suggested that we find a way to keep the conversation going and nurture these seeds of connection, and a Facebook group called ‘HeartSquad” was created, with the description: “A heart-centred group that meets regularly to share hopes, dreams, fears, and the day-to-day goings-on. We value diversity and compassion here.”
Connections and community are what we are all about, and a key to building resilience is connection with others. The ways that we cultivate a positive outlook may begin with our relationship with ourselves but as we share with the people in our lives, we contribute to strengthening our communities, which in turn gives us good moments to reflect on at the end of the day. The cycle continues.
Contributed by Brooke Oxley