Attitude is Everything: Examining a Cliché

Attitude is everything.  We’ve all heard it a thousand times.  In the midst of extraordinary challenges, I have found this phrase to be nauseating.  Over the years, some people (I kid you not) have said to me, “Everything happens for a reason.  Have you found the reason why you became a paraplegic?”  In the interest of appearing to be a mature adult, I have shrugged these comments off rather than responding the way any reasonable person would, such as, “If you get shot in a drive-by and paralyzed on your way home, can I stop by the hospital and ask you the same question?”

But it is true.  Attitude is indeed everything.  There is no escaping that fact.  It is both the art and the science of being a human being.  Look at any situation in your life, past or present.  Every single thing that has ever happened to you has been 100% dependent upon your perception of it.  And how you perceive something forms your attitude towards it.  That doesn’t mean that things don’t get created by outside circumstances and affect you.  But the moment something happens to you is the same moment that you begin shaping your attitude toward it.  Does that mean we should automatically adopt positive attitudes around challenging situations?  Absolutely not.  That is the essence of denial.  We owe it to ourselves to experience the full range of feelings that accompany any challenge.  Otherwise, we don’t actually grow.  We never become bigger than the challenge that way.  You can’t have a genuinely positive attitude about something when you are, in fact, just covering up your feelings.  I literally spent years of my life following my spinal cord injury putting a smile on my face and acting stoic, almost like nothing had really happened.  It was the best I could do at the time, but by adopting that attitude, I was denying myself the opportunity to feel everything there was for me to feel.  Deep in my unconscious mind, I was terrified of what had happened to me – terrified of what the future held.  But as I slowly learned to create a safe space for my awareness – genuine courage, as opposed to denial – I was able to feel more.  Once I actually felt what was there for me to feel, the feelings moved through rather efficiently.

Coincidentally, as I am writing this post, I just looked at my Yogi Tea bag, and written on it are the words, “An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities.”  I can’t argue with that.  But an attitude of gratitude is easier said than done for most of us.  Having a good attitude about the parts of one’s life that are not challenging is pretty easy.  But having a good attitude when we are struggling to deal with life’s challenges is a whole other thing.  If your house gets foreclosed on or your spouse leaves you or you develop a terminal illness, reading the words, “an attitude of gratitude brings opportunities” is likely to make you want to throw your tea cup through a window.  If they had a little more room on the tea bag, or if they were trying to be honest rather than trite, what they might’ve said is something like, “An attitude of gratitude brings opportunities, but in order to eventually adopt this type of attitude, you must first practice being at peace with whatever state your mind is already in.”

And yes, I do feel that my injury happened for a reason.  It happened because there was an opening in my life for a particular type of growth at that time and place.  But finding that reason has been a personal journey that has taken me years to discover, and the process of unearthing the reason will take the rest of my life.  That being said, I reserve the right to answer, “go screw yourself” to anyone who wants to know.  Because attitude is everything.

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