A friend of mine recently told me a joke popularized by Ronald Reagan. It makes a useful statement on what to do when things look bleak in your life. I looked it up and thought you’d enjoy the full context:
An excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson:
The Pony In the Dung Heap
When Life Buries You, Dig
Journal Entry, June 2002:
Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”
The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.
First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. “What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”
Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. “What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”
“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.'”
As we looked at in my previous post “Joan of Arc on Living” (http://tinyurl.com/yehybr6), your outlook on life is colored by your underlying beliefs about life. Whether you call yourself an optimist or a pessimist is a matter of perspective, then, as life is life and the facts of the situation are the facts of the situation. What you emphasize in the situations you encounter will determine the nature of your experience. Again, it’s not so much what happens to you that matters, it’s how you handle what happens to you.
If you were able to take snapshot of every aspect of your life – your work, personal situation, home, family, friends, finances and your sense of self – and look at them one after another like flashcards, what words would you use to describe them? Some aspects of your life may appear more promising than others, but no matter what the factors are, you can always stand to improve your outlook and consequently your approach to handling your life.
Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt once said: “In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our own responsibility.” Everybody makes choices every day. How effective do you feel you are in that realm of your function? “I wish I could make better choices,” you might say, and I would say that you can.
How? By making sure that you are looking in the right direction and the right place. Rather than entering a room and immediately jumping to conclusions about what is wrong, what isn’t working, what you don’t like, what you wish was different, go into the same room and ask yourself what is working here, what could you use as a step to the next goal and what can we agree on now? I can assure you that our Founding Fathers put that approach in the forefront of their minds when they summarized the principles upon which our Great Nation was built.
They found the pony in the room, but the more important question is, will you?