When I went to South Africa for a book tour, I didn't expect to fall desperately in love with an entire country. It's been one of those affairs that both breaks and heals your heart—sometimes wonderful, sometimes terrible, always unforgettable. At one point, I heard a limo driver unleash a stream of such vicious racism that I felt physically ill with shame, until I started discussing this experience with other South Africans of all races. Astonishingly, they met horrific prejudice with neither fear nor hatred but with deep, improbable, battle-scarred love and optimism. They refused to relinquish hope. If South Africans can still trust in the future and work toward peace and justice, how can I do less?
Thing Seven: Dogs
Dogs are my favorite role models. I want to work like a dog, doing what I was born to do with joy and purpose. I want to play like a dog, with total, jolly abandon. I want to love like a dog, with unabashed devotion and complete lack of concern about what people do for a living, how much money they have, or how much they weigh. The fact that we still live with dogs, even when we don't have to herd or hunt our dinner, gives me hope for humans and canines alike.
Thing Eight: The Marriage of Eastern and Western Philosophies
I lived in Asia during my early 20s. At the time, I didn't realize that studying Eastern languages and cultures was changing my worldview; I only knew that when I returned, Western psychology seemed strange and one-sided. "Why," I thought, "are Americans so obsessed with thinking, doing, acquiring? Why don't we value things like clearing away illusion, returning to the basic clarity of deep self?"
Decades later, I see that millions of Americans are asking those same questions. Asian philosophical concepts have been filtering across the Pacific so long that they no longer sound nonsensical. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and atheists are learning yoga and meditation, dabbling in tai chi and feng shui. This blend of East and West is bringing out the best of both cultures, and I'm delighted to be watching it.
Thing Nine: The Rise of Life Coaching
I hate the phrase life coaching. It sounds like something a former child star would pitch on infomercials at 2 a.m. I didn't even know I was doing it until I read a newspaper article that named me as a practicing life coach.
That said, the life-coaching movement has made me very happy indeed. Aside from giving me a profession, it has allowed me to witness the bravery, diligence, and idealism at the core of many, many amazing people. You can't sit in my chair and keep believing that the world is going to hell in a handbasket; there's just too much goodness in the human soul. I suggest you discover this for yourself: Form a "life support" friendship group, or recruit your best friend to trade encouragement as you set and work toward goals. Nobody really needs a life coach, but God bless you if you get one—or become one.
Thing Ten: Rollerblades
Knee problems ended my running days long ago, but because I can put wheels on my feet, I still get the delight of exercising, being outdoors, relaxing my mind while my body moves. Rollerblades didn't exist when I was a child in the late Bronze Age, and I love how maneuverable they are compared to old-fashioned skates. I draw abundant hope from the fact that humans keep thinking up unprecedented ways to go places, to negotiate barriers and challenges, and to have a blast doing it.
You see, as much horror as we have always created, we are a species that keeps moving forward, seeing new sights in new ways, and enjoying the journey. Join in the fun. Today, make a quick list of ten hope-inspiring items. Tomorrow, list ten more. So long as we keep our eyes on what is best about the world, as well as what is worst, we'll spend our lives enjoying the present, and awkwardly, clumsily, steadily creating a happy future.
More Insight From Martha Beck
- 20 questions that will change your life
- How to tap into your true power
- 10 life lessons you should unlearn
From the March 2004 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.