Mental Pivot

Notes and observations from a lifelong pursuit of learning.

Insights and interesting reads delivered straight to your inbox.
Sign up for the free Mental Pivot Newsletter.

Setbacks, Silver Linings, and Optimism in the Current Political Climate

My oldest child, a senior in high school, has played competitive club soccer for most of her life. Although she plays soccer out of a love for the game and her teammates, collegiate soccer has also been on her radar. This past year was a big one for her from a college recruitment standpoint. In the month leading up to one of the biggest showcase tournaments in California, she was corresponding with college coaches interested in watching her play.

One week prior to the tournament, she was playing a regular league game and suffered a dislocated nose two nasal fractures from a player-to-player collision jockeying for a header. My daughter was devastated. She made it through a decade of youth sports without injury, and now, one week before the biggest tournament of her soccer career, she not only had to wear an awkward cast on her face but she was told she couldn’t play for two months and would miss the tournament.

Fortunately, she’s a tough kid. She sucked it up and was back in action 8 weeks later, ready to get back to playing. Unfortunately, a week after her return she suffered another setback: a torn patellar tendon in her left knee. Now she would be sidelined for much longer and this time she would need significant physical therapy and rehab.

My daughter was bummed, but she approached the setback with a surprising positivity and optimism (much to the surprise of her dad). Despite missing the showcase tournaments and her best chance at recruitment, she eventually found the silver lining to her situation. She told me she appreciated the extra time she now had; she was able to spend more time on her college applications and focus on planning for the future. Moreover, she told me that she’s glad the doctors identified an asymmetry in her legs that, if not addressed, would have caused more future problems (the quadriceps on her uninjured leg were significantly larger than those on the injured leg). Despite the injury, she knew that physical therapy would ultimately make her stronger and healthier. And despite not being able to play the game, she was still able to participate; albeit in a new role as an assistant to her coach. As the coach’s assistant she helped setup equipment and practice cones, carried the coach’s clipboard, and meticulously recorded game statistics. She found new ways to contribute which expanded her perspective on what it means to be a teammate.

While I grumbled about the team club fees we were still paying despite being on the injured list, her actions and attitude were a strong lesson and reminder about the importance of looking for the silver lining in our setbacks. It’s a simple habit, but it’s easy to forget in the fog of our own personal problems.

Inspired by her example, I’ve been trying to implement “silver lining” thinking in my life more often when I catch myself reflexively falling into non-productive behaviors. These often manifest as complaining, whining and grumbling about circumstances I don’t like or that are beyond my control.

I recently spent a few minutes thinking about the current Presidency. Instead of wallowing on what I don’t like about Trump, I went in the opposite direction: I looked for the positives of the Trump Presidency.

To be clear: I’m not a fan of the current White House. But if I want to see improvements in our political, social and cultural discourse, I know I need to fight against 100% negative thinking, move beyond my peer group echo-chamber and be more objective in my thinking. What follows are some of the positives I identified.

Some good things about the Trump Presidency:

  • It has forced several important issues to the forefront of our national debate: racism, immigration, globalization and the influence of both traditional and social media.
  • The Affordable Care Act has remained mostly intact and has actually seen growing popularity across the spectrum of voters. The Trump administration has tinkered with the ACA (for instance, elimination of the individual mandate fine) and a Republican-controlled House had attempted a repeal, but these efforts have galvanized support for the act.
  • I’m not gonna lie, Trump has been good for my personal finances and my business taxes. The stock market is at record highs and the corporate tax rate is at its lowest level since the 1930s. Unemployment has also been at its lowest since the Great Recession.
  • U.S. energy dependence on foreign oil is at a 30-year low.
  • The Trump Administration has taken the opioid crisis seriously and has taken reasonable measures to address it. For instance, Trump signed a significant package into law to combat the opioid epidemic in 2018 called the SUPPORT for Patients and Communities Act.
  • It has forced me to consider my personal views more thoughtfully and to learn more about other people’s perspectives. A less fractious timeline might have resulted in greater complacency, lower empathy and less curiosity on my part.
  • It has forced me to look carefully at how humans make decisions and how we associated and identify as parts of tribes (see the work of Prof. Lilliana Mason and Prof. Amy Chua for insightful work on identity politics and tribalism). This is good as it has forced me to reconsider what I understand. I’ve learned that you can try to fight and resist reality or you can adjust your worldview to accommodate the unexpected complexities of life that you encounter. I choose the latter. I’m not saying it’s the right or only way to do it. I can only say that it’s brought me some level of peace and understanding.
  • I have faith that regardless of what happens, people are generally good-natured and kind and that the core institutions of our democracy will endure.

Regardless of where you stand on the issues or which party you identify with, participating in the civic act of election voting is an important part of our representative democracy. Be sure to register to vote if you have not already done so!

Get weekly email updates and additional content: Sign up for the free Mental Pivot Newsletter.