So for those of us of a certain age, a favorite childhood movie was Pollyanna, starring the very gifted child actor Hayley Mills. For those of you unfamiliar with the theme of the movie, Pollyanna is an orphan who goes to live with her much older and very bitter Aunt Polly in a town that is mired in religious intolerance and acrimony. Pollyanna chooses to live her life (even when tragedy befalls her late in the movie) in a positive way, looking for the good in every person and every situation, not judging anyone, knowing everyone has their own story that has shaped and molded the way they act. And since it’s a Disney movie, it won’t surprise you to hear that it has as happy an ending as her circumstances would allow. In fact, Pollyanna became a defined word in the dictionary, usually meaning someone illogically optimistic, someone who believes there is good when no one else would ever draw that conclusion.
Recently I found myself on the outside looking in at a sad and vitriolic discussion about a hot button topic. There are always two sides to every story, I know, but sometimes there is a right and a wrong side, or a much more right side compared and contrasted with a barely understandable side to a topic. And heaven knows that I don’t pretend to always be right although I do aspire to being on the right side of the things that matter to me the most: love, trust, friendship, tolerance, kindness. But this event had none of these things as part of its dialogue and it made me angry and sad.
I was chatting with a friend about this and why people had to behave the way they do, not only in the limited scope of the situation at hand but in general. The bitterness, the anger, the generalizations, the bigotry, the intolerance, the hurtful words. What makes a person come to that point when you would hope they were raised to have an open mind and a loving heart and a generous spirit. And why does a person choose that path when I have chosen another. And my friend Eileen (the most kind-hearted and intelligent woman you could imagine) told me that she was raised to believe the world and the people in it were mostly good, with a few bad apples, and maybe that made her a Pollyanna.
And that really resonated with me. What’s so wrong with being Pollyanna? What’s so bad about wanting to believe the best in people? What’s wrong about trying to focus on the individual instead of stereotyping the group? Why is it easier to focus on the negative instead of embracing the positive? Why oh why do we perpetuate the divisiveness that has separated us instead of reaching across the divide and trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes?
We are a people blessed, a nation that has been given much and from which much is expected. We have heroes great and small, from my mother who gives her mailman a cold iced tea on a hot summer day, to the soldiers of all creeds and races who defend our freedom every day. From my friends, some of whom have lost spouses or children and some of whom have battled serious illnesses to the people who stand up to intolerance every day. From those who share what they have without recognition or need for validation to those who take a stand every day and fight the good fight.
We can all be someone’s hero if we choose to. We can all do what’s right, even when it’s hard and especially when we may be the only one doing right. We can all learn that tearing each other down, or tearing down others we don’t know because we have some preconceived notion in our head about them is neither productive or helpful or kind. Use that energy to do good in the world. Reach out across the bridge that separates us and learn about someone instead of dismissing them. Open your heart, open your mind.
And if that makes me a Pollyanna, so be it. There are a lot worse things to be than that.