Click here to read an original op-ed from the TED speaker who inspired this post and watch the TEDTalk below.
I'm a realist. When things are bad, I prefer to see them as they are. For, really, what good comes from following a trail you've been led to by self-invented lies of optimism? What's the point of responding to a mirage? And how do you land at the end of a fall you refuse to see coming?
It's not a choice.
To cope with the biggest baddest scariest things in life, you have to know what you're up against.
And here's the good part: reality, grim as it is, isn't all grim. When you hit bottom you reach the end of the line.
There are limits in life. There's a flipside.
Put simply: bad times mean good times are coming.
If you know this -- really know it in your heart -- you can get through anything.
You can get on with the act of living life -- past the nastiness of an unpleasant, present situation. You can see the good that is still out there waiting for you -- not the invented good of the optimist in an irredeemable situation, but the true goodness of what is yet to come. This is the vision that helps you hold on for the ride.
Most of us won't experience tragedy on nearly the same scale as Joshua Prager, left a hemiplegic in a car accident. But like Prager, we can choose to look at what is. We can take stock, deal, and move on. It feels like the right way to live.
How We Respond
Prager gets it: that the response to tragedy is what can set us apart, turning us from lumps of coal potential into diamonds. "... what makes most of us who we are most of all is not our minds and not our bodies and not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us."
Prager doesn't sugarcoat the course his life has taken, his challenges and losses. He doesn't ignore his difficulties. He also doesn't become them.
Sure. When something bad happens, we could misrepresent things, paint them a different color. We could do that. We could close our eyes, paint things pretty and pink or all black and ugly with no way out.
And none of it would do us any good.
Normalcy After Chaos
It would not advance us even a short way toward regaining balance after tragedy, normalcy after chaos. Better instead to call things by their real names and wrestle with known entities; to deal with things in the now and look toward a better future.
That's not optimism. That's realism.
We can and should acknowledge the rough stuff. We need to be fair and kind to ourselves. We deserve that much.
For me, this is the takeaway from Prager's talk. To not be limited like Abed, who fails to acknowledge the suffering he causes others, but reaches only so far as the suffering he imposes on himself. There he stops cold -- chooses to do so. It makes him less than human.
Nod At Life
Instead, let us see the full picture; see things as they really are: how they affect both us and others. Let us give life a nod and then get on with it.
Because without that acknowledgement of pain we are like the two year-old who falls and bumps a knee. She cries. Not so much because it hurts but because it happened to her and she wants it acknowledged. "Look! I hurt myself."
A parent will say, "Oh my. You fell!" and just like that, the tears are over and the child moves on. She needed to hear the words. The words give her permission to get past an unpleasant event.
Bad Things Suck
And so it is with life. Bad things happen and it's okay to see them for what they are. In fact, it's good to see them as they are. In so doing, we free ourselves for the joy yet to come. As Prager puts it, "... one does not have to say that a bad thing is good, that a crash is from God and so a crash is good, a broken neck is good. One can say that a bad thing sucks, but that this natural world still has many glories."
This is what we try to do at Kars for Kids with our educational initiatives for children. Our mentors help kids, some of whom are disadvantaged, take stock of strengths and weaknesses. Then they tell them that steel is forged through fire and that now, it is time to move on.
As Joshua Prager would be the first to tell you, sometimes we're dealt a lousy hand. But what's critical is the next move.
And the one after that.
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