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President Clinton Teaches Us Why We Are Born Optimists

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2010-09-27-JudyConsumer_03withglassesandhappy.jpg As a proxy for our friend, the generic "Judy Consumer," I had the rare chance to experience in person the Clinton Global Initiative (September 21 - 24) as "Judy Consumer" might. Never having been so close to so many high level politicians and world leaders, it was exciting (somewhat dizzying) to be a part of this global event. It was awe-inspiring to know that this collection of business leaders, sustainability experts, diplomats, politicians, and celebs were all talking about one simple thing -- what can we do to make a difference to someone, somewhere in our wide world.

It was inspiring to understand how the power of the Clinton Global Initiative was that it provided a "platform" where these initiatives can go from concept to the concrete. During the course of four days I got to see how much energy and commitment were focused on a myriad of problems ranging in scope around four key initiative themes: Empowering girls and women, harnessing human potential, strengthening economies and technology enablement. These four themes were the organizing format at the "CGI Exchange" -- an exhibition hall filled with lots of small and large companies that have taken one issue and are working to solve it. I saw one small company create "a water wheel," easing the burden of traditional water carrying jugs world over. Or Internews, another company, working to train local journalists in developing countries. And there were courageous efforts to reduce plastics pollution, reconnect the 43 million refugees who are separated from their families and expand access to education in a variety of programs.

It was moving to see such a wealth of human commitment. But what kept nagging at me was while these efforts were heroic and noble -- the need seemed overwhelming. My spirit wanted to hang on to the optimism of these passionate people but my intellect reeled from the seemingly hopelessness of it all.

That question kept pressing on my mind throughout the rest of the conference even up to the final closing session. This was a grand slam sort of session, featuring heavy weight speakers including President Obama, Michelle Obama (who spoke compellingly about the opportunity to better harness the amazing human potential of our veterans and their families) and Bill Gates along with a high profile set of celebs including Barbra Streisand, Mick Jagger and Geena Davis.

Then, startlingly, in the final official moments of the event, it was President Clinton who himself seemed to sense the question that hung over my head and probably many others as well, which, he put far more bluntly than I had whispered in my own head: "I wonder if we are all fools to be optimists ... it's so easy to look at the negative."

The question seemed impossible to answer and I was in no mood to be played with since I had already been on my feet for over 90 minutes (the press corp are not given such amenities as chairs, except for use by photographers). Irritatingly at first, it seemed like President Clinton was taking an oratory detour, going on about some recent discoveries within the subatomic world -- not addressing the question at all.

Then, living up to his well earned talent at keeping an audience engaged, he came back to the salient point with a mischievous glee in his voice. He explained how in the subatomic world, scientists were surprised to learn that contrary to their expectations that there would be a perfect balance between all positive and negative particles, it seems that: "the positive particles were slightly more numerous within each atom than the negative particles." He continued; "You don't have to think life is perfect, but all this is worthwhile because ... the positive elements are slightly more numerous than the negative ones."

It's wonderfully reassuring to know it is in our very physical being to be optimists. It's inspiring to know that all the efforts of all the Judy Consumers out there reflect who we really are -- born to be optimists.