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posted: 8/11/2013 5:00 AM

Editorial: Colin Powell's message of perpetual optimism

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Ask friends to list the attributes of a leader, and they'll offer up a variety of characteristics: A leader has vision, magnetism, creativity, communication skills, courage, integrity. No doubt there are other attributes too. Most leaders have intellect. Most have self-discipline, at least in some important aspects of their lives.

But one attribute that so often goes unspoken is optimism, what Norman Vincent Peale called "the power of positive thinking."

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell visited the suburbs last week, headlining the annual Global Leadership Summit at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, and among the many points he made with senior pastor Bill Hybels and 8,000 attendees was the essential power of optimism.

Anyone who has followed Powell's work over the years recognizes this as one of the retired general's central themes. "Perpetual optimism," he has said many times, "is a force multiplier."

This isn't just true for a leader who must rally the troops to take the next hill or marshal a company to meet the next challenge. It is true as well for anyone who wants to achieve success. Or, we might add, to lead a happy life.

Of all the gifts we would wish to give our children, this is a fundamental one: To a large extent, you create the life you envision.

If you envision life with a cynical view that the world's a dark place and everything is an obstacle, you're likely to be stymied by your negativity, too hopeless to move, too blinded to see opportunity, too self-defeated to risk a start. And you're likely to end up as unsuccessful and as unhappy as you fear you'll be.

If you envision life with a cheerful view that the world's an exhilarating miracle and everything is an opportunity, you're likely to be liberated by your hopefulness, willing to take on a challenge, confident enough to risk failure, enthusiastic enough to push forward. And you're likely to end up successful even if it's not quite as successful as those dreams might have imagined -- and in any case, ending up as happy as you dream you'll be.

"Keep your face always toward the sunshine," the great poet Walt Whitman wrote, "and shadows will fall behind you."

Or as Henry Ford (and many others since) put it, "If you say you can or say you can't, you are right either way."

By this, do we mean to endorse blind faith? No, we're not talking about the kind of silly naiveté that would have you quit your job because you're optimistic you're going to win the Powerball lottery. What we're talking about is the pragmatic power to make a difference.

Life is hard, and it does come with difficulty and obstacles.

But a cynic sees those obstacles and views them as insurmountable. An optimist sees the same obstacles and asks what must be done to overcome them.

Said Helen Keller, one of the most inspirational figures of the 20th century: "Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence."

We share that view. We hope you and your loved ones do too.

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