As I was reading this morning’s business section of the Los Angeles Times, I stumbled upon an article that caught my eye titled “August Auto Sales Read 11-Year High”. The first sentence of the article read, “Consumers streamed into auto dealers last month, pushing industry sales to their highest level for an August in 11 years.”
In explaining some of the factors that contributed to the rise in sales, an analyst from an investment house named Sterne Agee noted that favorable interest rates and an improving economy were important contributing factors.
Let’s stop for a moment and let some of those concepts sink in. “Rise in sales”… “Highest levels [of auto sales] in 11 years”… “Favorable interest rates”… “Improving economy”…
I think it’s important to stop and absorb those words because in the next 8 weeks, we won’t get to hear those phrases uttered very often.
Why won’t we hear them much?
That’s because the mid-term elections will be held on November 4. This means we’ll hear primarily two takes on the times in which we are living. Those folks running for office who are in power will be of sounding as if they are minimizing the ongoing struggles many feel – so while they may occasionally pepper in references to “improvements”, they’ll quickly add, “If it weren’t for the bums on the other side of the aisle things would have been so much better.” Those folks running for office who are not in power will ignore all references to improvements and focus only on statistics that emphasize the problems we face. What that means, then, is that in spite of the fact that we are living in a time when at least SOME things are improving – it will sound and feel as if EVERYTHING is only getting worse.
During my recent sabbatical I spent a good deal of time thinking about that dynamic. I asked myself, “Why is it so hard for some – including myself some days – to acknowledge those places where things are improving?”
There are several reasons for that, I suppose. Many mirror the dynamic I mentioned above in the political context. Those who aren’t invested in the status quo can easily be led to entirely dismiss the status quo – including elements of good that exist within it – because of their frustration. In other words, their angst causes them to throw the baby out with the bathwater in their attempts to enact change. Those who are invested in the status quo in some form or another are terrified that if they speak to elements of good that exist that they’ll be accused of ignoring the shortcomings of the present situation – so they too fail to speak to the positive things that are occurring. Because of that dynamic, it often feels as if we are surrounded by “EEyores” from Winnie the Pooh – people who are constantly unhappy!
So how do we move away from this dynamic and toward a more positive way of being?
For me, one word contains hope. That word is “better”.
The word better does two powerful things simultaneously. First, it acknowledges the steps forward that have already been taken in ways that can inspire and motivate people. It does this by allowing them to reflect on the good things that have been accomplished. Second, it acknowledges that while improvements have occurred we are NOT there yet. In order to move from “better” to “the best”, we still have work to do.
As I re-enter my ministry settings following my sabbatical, I am committed to using the word “better” as much as possible. I will use it in hopes that it will encourage me to acknowledge the great work that has already been done AND inspires me to address the work that still needs to be done.
Today I would invite you to look at the word “better” in the context of your own life and vocation. In what ways are you better off these days than you were a while ago? In what areas do you still have important work to do? I hope you’ll think about increasing your own use of the word “better” in coming days.
See you next time!