When I was a small child, my bedroom transformed itself every night. Or at least I thought it did. With no sunlight streaming through the window over my toy chest, the night light perched on a shelf was there to give me a sense of comfort and security. The little illumination it emitted was supposed to soften the darkness. It didn’t.
Instead it emitted a sinister ray that made my room look like the inside of a museum of the damned. In the weird glow, every object threw a jagged shadow up against the pale walls. If I woke up around midnight, I would find myself surrounded by bizarre shapes that appeared to be almost alive.
And it was all in my five year-old head. It was the way I chose to see things. In Carol S. Dweck’s book, Mindset, she discusses two basic outlooks. The first is the fixed mindset. A person becomes locked into a certain way of seeing things. This perception is immune to any facts that contradict it. The second point of view is the growth mindset. This outlook sees what is there, but also picks up on possibilities. In other words, if life looks bad at the moment, it isn’t necessarily a permanent situation. Life is not static.
None of this is new; we’ve all heard about the importance of having a positive outlook. We’ve heard it to death actually. How many times have we suffered through Annie’s impossibly hopeful “The sun’ll come out tomorrow”?
But this is the Age of Cynicism. Being optimistic right now looks about as hip as wearing bib overalls at the Academy Awards. It’s cool to be cynical, to probe the dark side of things, to stay up most of the night and sleep well into the day. It’s cool to be tired constantly. Not to be disillusioned is to be in a way, defective.
Could it be time to ask where our angsty fixed mindset is getting us? No matter how much some of us may like to wear the doom cloak, we don’t really way down deep inside want to be doomed (Even if it is cool.) Think for a moment about the kids who went through the Great Depression. This wasn’t a party. If you were in your teens and you got a job, your paycheck went to your parents to support the household. Fun, huh? Then at the end you got a big reward: World War II. Your classmates were blown away on foreign battlefields or you died there yourself.
Yet this is the same generation that fueled the economic boom of the 1950’s. And that wasn’t the only boom they fueled. There was the housing boom and of course the baby boom. These survivors of extremely crappy times had a lot of reasons for fixed mindset thinking. Instead, they mostly went for the growth mindset, the viewpoint of possibilities. That generation had things to be really down about. Global economic crisis and world war before the age of twenty. What’s our problem?
Discussing mindsets can become simplistic to the point of absurdity. We are complex beings. We are light and dark, up and down, and in and out almost simultaneously. And too often we construct our own reality from what we choose to see. We envision the walls squeezing in and the shadows sharpening. Perhaps it’s time to turn out the night light so we can really see.
It isn’t what you see as much as it is the way in which you see it.