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Attitude is Everything

Pakistani Woman and Baby in UAE

She smiled and asked in a somewhat sarcastic tone, "Do you live here or something?"

For her, dropping $250 in a single day was no big deal. For me, that's my whole budget for food, transportation, and lodging for an entire month.

Over the course of the past week, we had both spent several hours a day at the same cafe in the backpackers district of Kathmandu and on several occasions exchanged glances without speaking a word.

The free wifi and excellent coffee made the cafe a great place to use my laptop and for the past week it has been my home while I work during the day on my upcoming ebook, Small Ways to Make a Big Difference.

I returned the smile, simultaneously surprised and happy that my out-of-control facial hair -- which I refuse to cut until the end of my initial six-month journey -- had not scared away yet another person.

We continued talking and I learned that she grew up in Canada, has a degree in education, and has been traveling for the past ten years holding jobs in various countries.

She talked about how nice it was to work in a foreign country where she was not only paid well but also provided with free health insurance, free lodging, and given two months vacation every year.

She uses her vacation every year to explore various parts of the world. She's currently vacationing in Nepal where she is taking yoga and painting classes, going on trekking tours, and hanging out a cafes reading and trying not to get bored.

Her current job has her working in the United Arab Emiraties (UAE) as a first grade school teacher for children with whom she cannot even communicate due to the language barrier.

The UAE, which she describes as being "like the twilight zone", has the world's seventh largest oil reserves and possesses one of the most developed economies in the Middle East.

I told her about my previous four months of travel and explained how the poverty, suffering, and inequality that I witnessed had driven me to start looking for ways to help.

When I asked her to tell me more about the UAE, she told me about the extreme riches and extreme poverty that exists there. She explained how the laborers were not supposed to work when the temperature rose above 120F degrees, but higher powers more interested in progress than human life made sure the temperature was always reported as 119F degrees, regardless of the actual temperature.

She talked about how expatriate laborers would come from countries like India and Pakistan in search of work, hoping to send money back to their families. Upon arrival, many of them would have their passports illegally confiscated.

These people would then be forced to work in grueling conditions for 14 - 16 hours a day while mothers and children, like the two in the photo above, would live in makeshift houses, oftentimes in overcrowded and unsanitary housing conditions just a few kilometers away from luxurious palaces they themselves were helping build.

Ferrari's and Lamborghini's could be seen driving next to the repressed people who were working to build this empire. Despite this, many of the wealthy people in the United Arab Emirates would say to your face, "there is no poverty here".

I starting talking to her about my ideas for how I thought we could bring awareness to the problems, brainstorm solutions, and provide small steps that could make a difference in the long-term.

But instead of the enthusiastic response that I expected, she shot down each idea with an example of why it wouldn't work. She kept describing specific types of people who were more interested in their own problems than those of the rest of the world. As far as she was concerned, the situation was hopeless.

Now before I continue, let me say that the position of a school teacher -- especially one that teaches young children -- is held with very high regard in my mind. I strongly believe there is no better way to change the world and affect the lives of others than through teaching children, so this post is in no way an attack on this person. Rather it's simply an observation that I made about her attitude towards the problems in the world.

She had already accepted defeat. She had already accepted that nothing could be done about the current state of the world.

With all the difficulties, all the obstacles, and all the challenges blindingly obvious, it was easier to just say that it can't be done. It was easier to talk about how difficult the changes would be than it was brainstorm solutions and be willing to sacrifice comforts.

***

The attitude that we bring to any situation heavily influences the outcome of that situation.

If we go around with an attitude that nothing can be done, it's more than likely that nothing will get done. But if we approach a problem with the attitude that something will be done, then there's a damn good chance that something is going to happen.

As my focus in life makes a huge shift towards figuring out what I can do to help make the world a better place -- as I read, research, and talk to others about the problems the world is facing and the efforts already in progress -- the scope of the situation is becoming more and more clear to me.

The sheer scale of the challenges and obstacles -- the incredible forces of greed and ignorance; the hugely influential power of governments; the political control the wealthy -- they're are all beginning to feel unmatchable.

As I sat there working on my first ebook -- a tiny piece of digital media designed to help give people ideas for ways they can make a difference in the world -- this person sitting across from me was making it sound like it was all for nothing. And I was beginning to believe her.

She continued talking and I glanced down at the ebook on my laptop. For just a moment, I began to feel hopeless. I began to feel as though maybe all this work was for an unattainable dream.

Maybe there really was no hope for all those poor people dying of starvation. Maybe those children were doomed to a future without opportunity. Maybe the inhumane abuse of power in the UAE will continue indefinitely, crushing the dreams of workers going there in search for a better life for their children.

And then it hit me.

Like a virus taking control of its host, I was allowing this negative attitude to infect my dream of possibility. I was letting go of optimism; letting go of confidence; letting go of hope. I was letting go of everything that was driving me.

I was letting go of the one thing that all those suffering people are holding on to -- the one thing that nobody can take away from us so long as we choose not to give it up.

***

To complain and say that it can't be done? That's easy. To hold your ground and take action when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge? That's difficult.

Only one of those two paths leads to progress and if progress is what we seek, then the choice is clear.

Nobody said that changing the world would be easy. Nobody said that working towards a better future would be comfortable and without sacrifice. Nobody said that we could sit back and wish away all the problems in the world.

We need to maintain an attitude that we can make the world a better place, that we will work towards a world where nobody goes hungry. We need to accept that poverty and injustice exist in the world and then believe that we can do something about it.

If we combine that attitude with purposeful action, progress towards a better world is inevitable.

Photo credit to JakeBrewer

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44 Comments

  1. This is the shot in the arm I needed this morning. Some weeks, it is like a roller coaster: You’re up, down and then back up again. All the while, the problems of the world are still out there.

    Sometimes the defeatist attitude is like a juggernaut laying waste to the power of optimism. Other times, you see such negative attitudes for what they are: A shrinking of the human spirit; complacency for the status quo; an unwillingness to embrace the possibility of (wonderful) change.

    It’s all a matter of perspective (for me, anyway). And with that, I have two words of advice for you: Keep Writing! The world needs it. Be well.

    • Bill, thank you for the comment!

      I see negativity and the attitude that “it can’t be done”, “we’re too far gone”, “money and greed are too powerful”, as the primary reason things are progressing as slowly as they are. Attitudes like those are what give others an excuse (even if only an excuse for themselves) to continue making choices that have a negative impact on the future.

      If everybody had a positive, can-do attitude, wouldn’t it be so much more difficult for people to make choices that go against that positivity? When everybody is already negative, it’s so easy to justify more negativity.

      We need to break the cycle. It all starts with us, because everybody else is busy going in circles! Each and every one of us is solely responsible for taking action.

      • It makes me ponder the exponential power of focused thought, attention and action. Much like the force exerted from a hammer swung from on high explodes onto the nail head, so too can the force of a collective consiousness and action (of tens, hundreds, thousands, millions) create the force/momentum we need to exact the change we all desire.

        • The power of positive thought has been proven by science to have real, measurable effects on a persons health. Why wouldn’t the combined positive thought of an entire planet have similarly powerful effects?

          I think it would. And I think that the Internet is finally opening the door to the possibility of encouraging such a change in mentality on a mass scale.

          I think the door has only been opened a tiny crack so far and that with the continued proliferation of the Internet, we will continue to see incredible opportunities for getting the word out there about what needs to be changed and how we can help be part of that change.

  2. Oh, Raam – you’re like a virus I’d like to infect the world with…and I mean that in the nicest way. 😉

    Love the post, love your writing (can’t wait to read the book), and especially love the attitude.

    I’ve been described as having the world’s biggest rose-coloured glasses for taking the same kind of stance, and for a while (since it was said by someone who loved me) I owned that label. With thought, I’ve come to realise that saying I, or we, wear rose-coloured glasses is like saying that we what we see – the possibility, the hope for the future – is a futile romantic dream, and I *don’t* accept that.

    So, yes, let’s agree that there are some monumentally crap things wrong with this world, and get on with the business of trying to find solutions. One tiny action at a time…

    • Hi Tracy! Thank you for the kind words!

      I absolutely agree with you that we should be careful not to have a romantic, purely fictional hope for the future. And I think that’s where action plays such a vital role. If we’re comitted to action, then we’re forced to make our aspirations a reality.

      That’s why I’m putting together this ebook. I want to have something to point others to when they say they don’t know what they can do.

      I’ve received so many incredible contributions so far. If you’d like to participate, there’s still time! Just send me a message through my contact page and I’ll send you details. The deadline is July 20th.

  3. Beautifully put Raam, “The attitude that we bring to any situation heavily influences the outcome of that situation.”

    I have great respect for people like you. God Bless You!

    Stumbled.

  4. Terrific observation & terrific piece of writing! I’m curious: did you tell the teacher how subtly poisonous she was?

    • Thank you so much, Meg!

      I would’ve liked to tell her that (although knowing myself, I wouldn’t have openly judged a stranger to their face without knowing more about them), but she left before these thoughts even finished forming.

      The conversation, and my momentary feeling of hopelessness, were something I contemplated for the rest of the evening and later that night (last night) when I realized how important this lesson was, I knew I had to write about it.

      I think we can all be subtly and unintentionally poisonous at times (I know I certainly have). The best course of action, I believe, is to regularly watch ourselves and question our motivations — consciously ask ourselves if we’re being positive or negative and then realign ourselves with positivity.

      We should also encourage our trusted friends, family, and spouses to point out to us when we’re being negative! 🙂

      • Wish I could do that with my family, but I’m actually the most positive-thinking one of the bunch–and my blog is a real downer for a lot of people, hahaha!

        Glad for the followup on the story–there’s a novel in there somewhere!

        • Hi Meg. Being a positive influence in the world is often interpreted as being negative… because you need to recognize problems in order to do much about them sometimes.

          But that’s just with talking. Action to solve issues (create happiness and heaven) is undeniably powerful, and much more easy for anyone to recognize. You haven’t dwelt on ‘whose fault it is,’ you’ve just stepped in and made a difference. That’s the way I strive for.

          • “Being a positive influence in the world is often interpreted as being negative… because you need to recognize problems in order to do much about them sometimes.”

            I totally love this! People accuse me of being negative or depressing but pretending you don’t see evil or inequity means you can’t change these wrongs.

  5. Hi Raam, that was very beautifully written. Thank you for writing this, as I’ve been somewhat afraid of pinpointing to my friends that “To hold your ground and take action when faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge? That’s difficult. Only one of those two paths leads to progress and if progress is what we seek, then the choice is clear.” That pretty much obligates people to choose this path. Your story also points out how important awareness is in implementing change. If there is no awareness of the issue, a resolution will never begin.

    I’ve adopted this new mentality as well, that the only path towards change is through holding your ground and taking action. Though I do often get influenced by negative people around me, I stick to my beliefs and continue in my attempts to tread lightly and contribute something of value. Like Tracy says, One tiny action at a time…

    • Hi Lynn, thank you for the kind words!

      Holding our ground is the one thing we can do to help encourage change. When others see us being strong and sticking to our beliefs, we automatically inspire them to do the same. Such inspiration rarely gets announced, however, so we have to remember not to force it in attempt to see others following us.

      I’ve been inspired so many times, by so many different people (everyone from my dad to a stranger I overheard in a restaurant), but they never know that they’ve inspired me. And most of the time, they weren’t even trying to inspire me. They were just being who they are.

      I’m so happy you decided to comment here because it allowed me to discover your blog, which really resonates with me!

      • Yes, inspiration is silent. I’ve been inspired by strangers and passing conversation many times. And also, sometimes a planted seed takes a few years to grow and blossom. But it’s still worth that time investment. And yay! I’m glad you like my site =]

  6. Hey Raam – staying optimistic and proactive in a world that doesn’t display much progress as yet is difficult.

    But we care for caring’s sake. What else do we do here? We don’t take anything with us when we go.

    At least your friend knew there were problems. Not half as annoying as those people who say the world is fine the way it is and health, wealth dichotomies serve a grander scheme.

    I will send your ebook to everyone I know (if that’s allowed). I’ll post it on facebook! Well… I’ll read it first 😉

  7. Negativity is contagious! At the same time, we need to have compassion for this teacher too.

    I thought you might like this quote that is a favorite of the Dalai Lama:

    “For as long as space exists
    And sentient beings endure,
    May I too remain,
    To dispel the misery of the world.”
    Shantideva

    I’m very grateful for this beautifully written article because I too at times can fall into despair, but it’s not helpful whatsoever.

    You are awesome!

    • Hi Sandra!

      Thank you for the comment and that quote! I get a lot of inspiration from the Dalai Lama.

      While negativity is contagious, I think positive action is even more contagious!

  8. Attitude is important and having HOPE is everything. Lance Armstrong talks about holding on to hope – and that without it we are nothing, that cancer is not so bad as long as we have hope and we do not lose sight of light at the end of that tunnel and any tunnel – so stay strong and on your course – and while this teacher may have had her reasons to believe defeat – you need not change your perspective because you are doing worthwhile things, Raam!

    • Thank you for all the support, Farnoosh! I totally agree that hope is of great importance, but at the same time we need to remember that hope alone isn’t enough. I think that’s where attitude comes into play.

      We can have hope, but unless we have an attitude that encourages us to take action, our hopes and dreams will forever remain just those, hopes and dreams. Lance didn’t just have hope and lay in bed all day, he lived that hope. The hope gave him a reason, but his attitude towards life itself kept him going!

      I think this is bordering on a discussion of semantics though, since a positive attitude and hope generally go hand-in-hand! 🙂

      • Hmmm. Are you disagreeing with me? 😉
        Just kidding – No you are absolutely right. I did not mean to say hope is all encompassing. Of course not! A strategy based on just hope is empty and can only go so far. You are right in that attitude which is closer to action than hope is necessary! As usual, I see that you can articulate better than me but in its core, we agree :)!

  9. Horrifying story about the UAE – I’ve only heard about the affluent end as my work is going into that country. Hold on to your values; let those who would destroy them only make you stronger.

    • Hey Keith!

      Yes, using the negativity to reinforce the reasons for being positive is the best thing we can do. Now I just have to remember that every time I hear negativity!

      I would love to hear your own thoughts and observations about the UAE when you start working there. We need more people writing openly about the injustice happening in this world!

  10. Hi Raam,
    You were right to stop yourself from going down that dark tunnel with Miss Negativity. Once the wind is knocked from our sales it takes a while, if ever to get it back.

    Nothing great is ever easy! I would say the Universe sent you a challenge to see if you could go the distance and congratulations – you can!

    Your ebook is going to help – You are making a difference.

    Don’t give up, ever.

    • Thank you, Angela!

      I’ve already accepted that this will be a lifelong endeavor full of challenges, so there’s no chance I’m giving up! 🙂

  11. I think it’s very easy to let others’ negativity bring us down, so I’m glad the teacher’s attitude didn’t slow you down for long. I was worried that she would be shooting down the dreams of small children similar to what she did to you until you mentioned the language barrier.

    It can get tiring struggling against a system that fights change, so I wish you much energy and conviction. This is part of why I’m no longer a social worker, although I do try to make the world better in more informal ways. I find helping individuals is more satisfying than working on the macro level, because you may not see the effects for years.

    • Hi Jennifer!

      Yes, I also worry about the attitude teachers bring to the classroom, especially for younger children who are being heavily influenced by them! I was home schooled my entire life, so it’s hard for me to talk about the classrooms of public (or private) schools, but from what I’ve heard from others, there’s a LOT of room for improvement!

      Your story about leaving your job as a social worker is interesting to me because as I continue looking for ways to make a difference, I wonder if we can do more good working one-on-one or working on the macro level. Or maybe it all depends on the person… I have a lot to explore and even more to learn!
      Thank you so much for your comments!

  12. Raam,

    This is an interesting story, and real as I too have noticed that in people and some times myself. I was born in India and came to US with my parents when I was younger. Whenever I go back to visit, I try to help, educate and give but often times I feel it is not enough. Although not hope less, I often time losing hope as what few good people are doing is not making any dents. It is like taking buckets of water from ocean.

    • Hi Preeti, thank you for the comment.

      I think there are a lot more “good” people out there than we realize… it’s just that we don’t necessarily know what we can do to have a positive effect. It’s also so easy to get caught up in our own problems. I often wonder how many people see me and think that I’m just “another tourist who doesn’t care”. How would they know that I do care?

      What’s important, I think, is that we’re doing everything we can to help and that we’re helping inspire others to do the same.

      • Hi Raam, your reply here really makes me think about being in a crowd of people who care but not being aware of this fact. Maybe the key to greater hope is to figure out a way to be more visible to each other? Great discussion, BTW.

        • Jennifer, you’re so right about that last part! What a coincidence that when I got your comment I was in the middle of writing something along those same lines in my new ebook!

          I think that is absolutely key — to be more visible to each other; to encourage each other; to openly discuss solutions and talk about how we’re applying them in our daily lives. Imagine if neighbors regularly talked about what they were doing to make a positive difference in the world… imagine how that would change entire communities.

          I’m hoping that my ebook helps spread some of those ideas and gets people talking! I absolutely love the discussion going on in this post and I think it proves that there are so many people with awesome ideas, insights, and the motivation to do something.

  13. Would just like to add that I thoroughly believe that “being good is it’s own reward.” Remember that when you look at the big problems and feel small.

    You are your world, your universe. You are the only think you take with you at the end. Be good, for goddness’s sake. Our inner states of being dictate everything, including the future of everyone who meets us. The world is smaller than it looks in many ways.

    • I agree Ali. When we’re faced with a seeming insurmountable challenge, we shouldn’t be looking towards the top and complaining about how difficult getting there will be. Instead, we should be looking at the ground in front of us and concerning ourselves only with taking the next step in the right direction. One step at a time. Every day.

  14. Excellent post, Raam – and a little painful, honestly, because I used to be that teacher.

    A friend once described in full detail the staggering impact that human civilization is having on our planet and how (seemingly) little time we have to fix it. My response? “Well, we’re screwed.”

    I felt a little guilty for it then, and I realize now that it was the wrong response. The situation isn’t hopeless, though – I just had to remember that I wasn’t the only one who cared. Countless people across the planet care too, and each one – you and your readers, for example – are doing what they can to try and make a change.

    Strength in numbers, I suppose. 🙂

    I just found your blog today, but I’ll be sticking around. I really like what you have here, and I’ve only read the first post!

    • Hey Matt! Thanks so much for stopping by. I’m happy you enjoyed this post. 🙂

      I think you’re right that we need to remember how many other people out there also care — how many others out there actually do want to help do something about the seemingly hopeless problems we’re facing in this world. We should remember that there are not millions, but billions of people on this planet who care, people who have goodness in their heart and genuinely want to see a better world. That should be reason enough to maintain a positive attitude!

      What I’m doing here is trying to bring such people together — connecting them with each other to share ideas and commit, together, to taking steps in the right direction every day.

  15. faith and hope
    trust that you and others KNOW the truth and that each of us can make a difference. keep focusing your energy on what is important, and be the inspiration that you are

    • Thank you, Lisa. Faith and hope are extremely powerful. As long as they don’t make us complacent, they can be a force that prevents us from wavering on our path.

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