Jennifer A. Chin (cswallow) wrote,
Jennifer A. Chin

The Choice for Optimism

I didn't know how much time had passed until I woke up one day and it was raining. I forget to mark the time when I feel I can barely hang on to today.

Nonetheless, here it is. The autumn, I mean. I rode up to Middletown, CT, for a dear friend's wedding and the leaves were just beginning their slow dying. Some small oddities of summer are lingering - this weekend sweeps in on skirts of sunshine and 80 degree air. The slight humidity still rests on my skin, we still have that mild stench of garbage on the streets of Manhattan, and subway-goers suck noisily on their last iced coffees.

I fold my summer dresses and put them in a box under the bed.

The past weeks were staggeringly busy; it nearly sent me to my knees, but as my roommate reminded me, "All things pass." And so I enjoyed the satisfactions of my labors with this series of exciting moments - the African People & Wildlife Fund (APW) attended the 3-day Clinton Global Initiative, C and myself performed at the Friday Night Fever party, NY Dance Force killed it at the BBC&C competition.

Over the last month I have seen classmates start businesses, babies growing up, loved ones begin new chapters - some as a married people and others as parents, and friends discover nuances of their own identities. So many things have come hard to them, but they hold their faith. Jim Yong Kim of the World Bank said during the Clinton Global Initiative that, "Optimism is a moral choice." If you have ever pursued anything that felt difficult or risky, ever pursued anything on behalf of a cause, of another person, of another living being, you must agree.

Optimism is a belief in our ability to change for the better, that our labors are worthwhile. If anything has taught me this, it is ballroom dance. I have never once said to myself, or to anyone else, "You've gotten as good as you can." For me, dance is the consummate symbol of boundlessness, of infinite faith in potential.

But as with all things, faith is not enough. Kim has said also, "Hope is not enough. We must deliver." And this is where the real work begins. And I would like to introduce another idea into this train of thought: that conflict is a necessary component of progress, if all parties involved have the same endgoal.

For APW, one of the best things developed is the Living Walls program, which builds better livestock corrals to prevent conflict between lions and livestock (lions attack livestock, livestock owners attack lions). In this case, conflict came first. But the communities wanted their livestock alive, and APW wanted lions alive (which means livestock alive), and so in the end they came up with an incredibly effective conservation solution.

And although on the dance floor, partners often have fights, I think ultimately both people want the same thing - they want the partnership's dancing to be better.

When conflict arises between two parties who are committed to the same goal, it turns out that strong emotions are really just expressions of desire. When those desires aren't met, yes, fighting and hurt is often an outcome. In my relationships, and on the floor, I became used to hiding what I needed, thinking that peace was the better path. I'm learning to lose that fear though, to speak my heart, to create an opportunity for change. When we ask our partner to do something differently, we ask them to try it in a new way, which is the only proven path to progress.

By acknowledging and fulfill the other's need for whatever it is (progress, security, companionship, happiness - all the things that make us feel human), we can actually understand each other better. And if we know there is also commitment, we know the conflict is not in vain. Thus, conflict brings us closer together, not further apart. And it creates the chance for both people to not repeat the same mistake next time.

It is that possibility, that knowledge that next time I can do it differently, that leads to the sensation of infinite potential.

Now the holidays loom and in their shadow stands melancholy, constructed from those who I will not be sharing this special season with. Since childhood, I have loved this time of year. Mulled cider on the stove, friends at my table for good food and story sharing, the traditions of Christmas trees and holiday window displays to look forward to. The memories of years past lingers hard.

During the height of fall color, leaves lose all the chlorophyll that has sustained that tree's growth. The cells that link the stems to branches dries out and weakens; the leaves go, too. The tree itself goes through an incredible process of converting the content of its cells to prevent them from freezing. This is the natural rhythm in this part of the country, where the trees must lose in order to grow again in the spring. When I go to California this fall it will be as a visitor, clutching my New York ID. When I go, it will be alone. After all, I too am a child of nature.

This is how I will face the days ahead. Committing, desiring, changing. Optimistic.
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