It is the winter of our discontent in Wisconsin, where relentless snow, frigid temperatures and dangerous driving conditions are daily fare.
I’m an optimist by nature, and even I’m getting cranky. I’m tired of shoveling snow, maintaining my balance on icy sidewalks, narrowly missing accidents on snow covered and slippery roadways, and dealing with people who are perpetually angry and frustrated.
This weather certainly challenges a person’s equanimity. It dampens initiative, dissipates energy, and generally grinds things to a state of surviving, not thriving.
And thus it calls forth resilience.
But what’s the process of moving oneself from disgust and fatigue to determination and accomplishment?
It starts with the stories we tell ourselves about what’s going on and what we can do about it. Global climate change might have something to do with this polar phenomenon or it might simply be part of a cycle of nature that has existed long before we got here and will continue its way long after we’re gone.
If, as the global warming believers say, we humans have mucked up the environment with our selfish and careless ways, then we probably deserve all the misery we’re experiencing. If, on the other hand, this is part of a normal process, then perhaps it’s easier to grin and bear it, knowing that this, too, shall pass.
At risk of being considered a simpleton, I prefer an attitude of acceptance and forward movement over an angry or belligerent railing against something we cannot control.
When the snow falls, we clear it away. We can’t stop it and we can’t determine how much or how little we get. Nature happens, we deal.
At the same time the weather is challenging us, we are enduring a political environment in which acrimony reigns, tongues unleash venom, and competitions become increasingly bitter. It’s painful to watch. More painful, still, to hear the stories people tell themselves to explain their rage. Listen closely. The key theme is that opponents are stupid, greedy, cruel, even evil. Conflicting points of view degenerate to snarling attacks.
We are sinking into disgust and fatigue, forgetting about determination and accomplishment. There are reasons for our fatigue and we’d be foolish to paint smiley faces over them and pretend they don’t exist. The world is far more complex than it used to be with problems that are perniciously unresponsive to quick fixes. This challenges both our equanimity and our resilience. But at some point we need to shake the fuzzy anger from our minds and put some energy behind finding a more productive way to live.
If you want to feel better, don’t wait for the politicians or weather gurus to advise you. Change your stories. Change your responses to challenge. Use your abilities to listen, understand and reason, then decide what you’re going to do.
We know that the weather will eventually change. Spring will bring robins and rain and maybe a flooded basement or two. Summer will bring open windows, Bermuda shorts, and stinging insects. Such is life in Wisconsin. Such is life in general.
When you confront challenge, you can fixate on what’s wrong and blame the idiots who caused it or you can study the situation, decide on a solution and get busy. I’ve observed that the latter group of folks tends to be smarter, happier, more resilient and more successful. They also tend to be leaders.
Susan Marshall is a consultant and founder of Executive Advisor LLC in Oconomowoc. She also is the author of "How to Grow a Backbone." For additional information, visit www.executiveadvisorllc.com.