Optimism shouldn’t be just for the dogs

This column first appeared in the Joplin Globe on May 2, 2007.

I wish I was more like our German shepherd Shilo.

Not because I could lie around the house all day sleeping and occasionally scratching myself. I get to do that on the weekends. No, I wish I had Shilo’s optimism. Shilo is just over a year old. We’ve been taking daily walks since she was a couple of months old. About six months ago, Shilo began taking a keen interest in birds, squirrels and rabbits. Her interest in birds, squirrels and rabbits can be summed up as follows: “I’m interested in wanting to catch them and seeing what they taste like.”

So for six months now, whenever Shilo has the chance, she will chase any bird, squirrel or rabbit that happens to catch her eye. I need to be clear here: Shilo has absolutely no chance of catching any of the birds, squirrels or rabbits she comes across. First of all, birds can fly, so whenever Shilo gets near one, it — follow me here — flies away.

I’m not sure exactly how smart Shilo is. I’m guessing she is at least as smart as your average member of Congress, although it’s hard to tell. But I’m pretty sure Shilo has noticed that birds can fly and she can’t catch them, but she keeps trying. She’ll see a bird in our back yard, and all of a sudden she’ll change from a relatively lazy family pet to a stealthy, wild jungle hunter. Although, to my knowledge, there aren’t many German shepherds hanging around the wilds of the jungle. She will slowly creep forward (how she learned to creep I don’t know) until she’s ready to pounce. Of course, just before Shilo begins her pounce, the bird she’s after will calmly fly away.

Squirrels and rabbits can’t fly (I’m not getting too technical here, am I?), but they can run. Very fast. Squirrels have the added advantage of being able to climb. For six months now, Shilo will see a squirrel or a rabbit and give chase. The chase never lasts long. Yet Shilo keeps trying. I’m sure that every morning when Shilo wakes up, the first thing she’s thinking is, “How come my food bowl is empty?” But after that, Shilo is thinking, “Today’s the day. I’m going to catch a bird, a squirrel and a rabbit.”

See, I’m just not that optimistic. I mean, I’m optimistic, but I’m not THAT optimistic.

I don’t get up every morning and think, “Today’s the day. The Pulitzer folks are going to call.” Or, “Today’s the day. The Kansas City Chiefs will call me about their quarterback position.”

I wish I was THAT optimistic. I wish a lot more people were that optimistic. See, I think we have too many pessimists today. Optimists make things happen. Pessimists keep things from happening. If a pessimist had discovered fire, it never would have caught on.

“Owwww. Fire hot. Fire burn. Fire bad.”

No, fire obviously was discovered by an optimist. “Me cold. Fire hot. Me not cold. Fire good. Now put baby back ribs on fire. UMMM … fire really good.”

This country was founded by optimists. Guys and gals who were optimistic enough to think, first of all, that the British could be beaten. I mean, even though the British talked like sissies, they did have a pretty tough army. Then the guys and gals who founded this country were optimistic enough to think that something called a democracy would work.

Optimists have been responsible for the some of the greatest medical advances in history. Jonas Salk? Your basic optimist. Right now, even as I write this, optimists are working on new and promising tools to fight cancer. Also, there are hundreds of thousands of optimistic cancer patients, fighting their disease, who are convinced that those tools are just around the corner.

Optimism, like fire, is a good thing. Optimism gives you hope. Optimism gives you a reason to get up in the morning. Optimism gives you a reason to try.

Just ask Shilo.