Musings from the ever-changing, ever-amazing and occasionally ever-baffling Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Wonderful Thing About Tiggers

I suspect most of us who have spent any time with the classic stories of Winnie the Pooh have a favourite character. Perhaps we identify with Pooh, the hapless and loveable (if a bit clueless) bear, or maybe we see ourselves more in the category of the learned Owl. Maybe we feel closest to Piglet, a tiny creature who seemed wiser beyond his small size, or Roo, the ultimate maternal figure. For me, though, it was always a battle between two characters on very different ends of the spectrum of personality: Tigger and Eeyore.

For a good part of my life I feared I was Eeyore. Negativity came easily and naturally to me, as it does to most people, I think, as it plays into the fears and anxieties that we have hardwired into our species. There were many times I felt quite akin to that donkey, with his melodrama and melancholy and pessimistic outlook on the world. And yet, something inside me always yearned to be Tigger, but I thought perhaps that being Tigger was something you were born with. Either you had bounce or you didn't, I thought.

And then, in 2007, I found a video from a man named Randy Pausch. Pausch was undoubtedly already an unusual man when he gave the speech that became the video - intelligent, accomplished, and respected. He had also been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer which is, even now in a time when we have learned so much about cancer, fundamentally a death sentence. He gave what he called his "Last Lecture" a sort of summary of what he had learned about life - and in the video he addressed the entire question of Tigger and Eeyore.

Thanks to Randy Pausch I realized, maybe for the first time ever, that being Tigger was a choice. Being optimistic, being positive, even just being happy was a choice you could make. It was life changing. Eeyores and Tiggers were not born that way - somewhere along the way they had chosen it, and maybe didn't even know they had.

The last few months in this community has had visions of Tigger and Eeyore dancing in my head with increasing frequency. There is no doubt we have seen some difficult times - an economic downturn and the subsequent impact on those we know, those we love and our own lives. We have seen incredibly divisive provincial and federal elections come and go (and those elections preyed upon the Eeyore inside all of us, there is no doubt of that, as there were those who used fear and anxiety as an attempt to manipulate us). We have seen criticism of those in all levels of government, those in media, those in the public service, those in private seems endless, in fact, the pointing out of what was done wrong and when and by whom. It has been a veritable tsunami of grey donkeys with black clouds hanging over them, it seems.

There has been some imbalance, I think, a tendency towards Eeyore-ism and a shying away from the bounce of the Tigger, the irrepressible resiliency of those who know the world is not a perfect place, but who are grateful for what they have, accept the things they cannot change and work to change the things they can. The trouble with Eeyore was that he was terrific at identifying problems, but he was never particularly good at solving them. Tigger wasn't always much better, but he was never afraid to try a new solution, and if it didn't work out then he would move on to the next one, and the next, and the next, because Tiggers don't give up. Ever.

I don't mean this post as an indictment of anyone, and if you are reading this and begin to feel your hackles rise in self-defense all I ask is that you stop and think about why you are feeling defensive. Often when we feel defensive it is because we see ourselves in what is being said or written, and perhaps we are not comfortable with seeing ourselves that way. Ask yourself if you would rather fall on the side of Eeyore and Tigger, and whatever the answer is simply make sure you are happy with that role.

For myself, though, many years ago I chose to be Tigger. When I told that to someone once they said it must be nice to have a life so trouble-free as to choose a life of happiness, and all I could do is quietly reflect on how little they understood that being Tigger meant being Tigger even when life threw you things like the death of both your parents, the sad and painful end of a 24-year marriage and the chronic disease that slowly stole the vision in your left eye. It was easy to be Tigger when things were good - it was far harder when things were bad, but that is when I needed to choose optimism, positivity and to be happy the most.

It is perhaps worth noting that some of the most positive, optimistic and resilient people I know are the ones who have faced the most difficult life experiences: the loss of a child, a serious illness with an uncertain prognosis, upheaval in their relationships or work. These people - their ability to keep their bounce - are what inspire me on a daily basis. Their refusal to give in to the Eeyores in their own lives (as Eeyores often view Tiggers as frivolous dreamers, unrealistic and maybe even foolish) is what ensures I will never give in to the Eeyores in mine - in fact, I just avoid the Eeyores, because life is too short to spend time with donkeys with black clouds over them when you can be with tigers that bounce and sing.

So there it is. Be a Tigger, or be an Eeyore. But never for a moment think that you didn't choose it, because whatever you are you have chosen that path. And that means you can choose a different one, too. I am living proof, someone who balanced on the line between the donkey and the tiger for a very long time before finally taking the leap and making a bounce into a life where I choose to be happy, stay positive and practice pragmatic optimism for myself, my community, and our world. What you do is up to you.

You see the most wonderful thing about Tiggers isn't that he was the only one. The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is we can all be one, if we want to be. And I am, and always will be, without apology, a Tigger who bounces.

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