Long ago and far away, I once wrote a newspaper commentary about a single corn plant that had popped up in our front-yard flower garden. It was for me a visual parable, a symbol of practicality elbowing its way above mere prettiness.
To tell the truth, it looked kind of ugly, looming over the pretty petunias or whatever. I didn’t care about that. I just really liked its assertion of raw individuality.
The point was not well made in the column, and no one expressed agreement. The article was not particularly memorable; I can’t tell you today what it actually said. But it did make an impression on one editorial writer, who frequently addressed me in the office afterward as “Cornstalk”. I suspected he was doing it in mockery, but I never got around to asking before he died a little later.
The corn kernel that seeded the plant probably came from scattered bird food or dog food that had been swept off the porch floor. The event reminded me at the time of the pop song “I’m a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch, and All I Do Is Cry All Day”.
The cornstalk memory is served up in response to a piece on the Press Herald editorial page Feb. 4 that gave a number of reasons to be depressed about the present state of our world and its prospects.
I don’t agree with such a worldview. Never have.
Then I also saw a report in the paper about a guy who had just visited with a bunch of school kids, and was really upbeat about a future to be managed by such cheery and vigorous people. Him I agreed with.
We’re not talking about cluelessness. The adult positive attitude fully accounts for the barriers and pitfalls out there. You just know they can be avoided or overcome. They don’t define your world, and you intend to take care of them.
Over a few days, varying new inputs settle and mature in your thoughts, eventually resulting in a glow of optimism and confidence. Even if the rest of the world is draped in gloom, we of the cornstalk persuasion are optimistic. We’ll be all right.
As a general thing, after all, there is good reason to accentuate the positive in whatever situation. Doing so reassures you that you’re not a helpless victim. It gives you something to work with. It asks, “What are you going to do about it?”
There’s good reason to ask yourself such a question. When the negative view rules the process, the only meaningful question is, “Oh, Lord – what will become of me?” You don’t have to do anything. You can’t. You’re a victim.
Not so when you accentuate the positive. In response to opportunity or danger, you ask: “What am I going to do about it?” That demands a response. It presses you to do something.
So you do something. If you have an off-the-shelf response, this matter is pretty easily taken care of. You take care of it and we don’t have this conversation.
But say you don’t have that handy solution. You don’t know what to do. So now we must figure out what to do when we don’t know what to do.
We have a process – as simple or as complex as it needs to be – called problem solving. Doing it right requires a positive mindset, a solutions attitude.
The solutions attitude is essential to problem solving. No matter how daunting the situation, however “hopeless,” you have to decide. You have to prepare to act, then launch action with strength and vigor. It works. Wondering, worrying and brooding do not work.
The lesson of the cornstalk in the petunia patch is that of courage and originality. Your solution may not be supported by others. It may look strange --never tried before. But if you believe in your process, you apply it. You stick with it. Make it work.
In Super Bowl LI in February 2017, the New England Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter . . . and came back to beat the Atlanta Falcons 34-28. Athletic competition at that level is so intense that such a comeback was inconceivable. But it happened.
We are struck by the appearance of a cornstalk in a petunia patch.
We admire the confidence and dedication that wins a football championship against huge odds.
Highly unlikely, both of them. But they actually happened. If we keep our eyes open -- and our minds -- we’ll be all right.