Choices

Choosing to Set the Tone

“I’m thinking of writing my column this week on choosing a good attitude,” I said to my teenage daughter. “Can you think of anything else I could write about?” Even moms don’t have fun writing about that topic. She suggested something about going through hard times, and I mumbled to myself, “Isn’t that basically the same thing?” 

Like everyone else in town, our sleeping situation has looked different from the norm this weekend. Whether Memphians have hosted people in their homes or been displaced, fallen trees and threatening cold have been motivators to share square footage with friends and extended family. My dear parents have hosted our branch of the Echols family as well as my brother’s family—11 people in two bedrooms. Thankfully, they’ve had a bottomless supply of Pop-Tarts (Brown Sugar and Cinnamon being the obvious best) and that has kept spirits high. 

This morning, though, my brother (his name is Landon—same as the ice storm) could feel Pop-Tart sugar crash coming on, and I overheard him say, under his breath, “This is going to be a challenging day, but I am gonna have a good attitude.” 

What on earth?!

Apparently, self-talk is a real thing. I asked him about it. He explained that he hasn’t worked out in a week, which puts him way out of sorts, and that he already knows it’s going to be another day when things don’t go according to plan. So, he was having a moment to acknowledge the hard, but actively choose the good, and that would set the tone for his day.

All my life, on my cranky days, my mother has said, “Choose a better attitude!” and I really thought that was just mom-speak for, “I’m over your crummy attitude. Straighten up so we can have some peace around here.” But my brother actually understood her message, and at some point, he internalized the concept that he has the power, to a certain degree, over whether his days are good or bad. 

This is earth-shatteringly new to me.

Simultaneously, my friend Ashley and I are planning an event for the spring. As we’ve hammered out details, she has spoken positively about people that grate on my last nerve. I can tell she’s not ignorant of their sandpaper-like tendencies, but she chooses not to talk about them in that light. Instead, she believes the best about people, and there’s an effervescence to her demeanor that translates as “fun.” As a matter of fact, she’s been described as “our friend who ages backwards.” 

Who doesn’t want that description? As I have worked closely with Ashley to plan, I’ve realized that in large measure, her light-heartedness stems from her choice to speak positively about others—or else keep her opinions to herself. Her mother must have told her, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” 

And she clearly listened. 

Of course, we know there are moments when that line of thinking doesn’t serve the greater good, but when women are talking about other women in a social context, applying this principle is almost always a good idea. Ashley and my brother understand this concept on the level where it matters—either by nature or nurture, or maybe both—and it has impacted who they are as people. 

The lightbulb moment for me came when I realized positive people are not light-hearted because they have no heavy thoughts. Instead, they do the heavy lifting on the front end of their days. They go into ice storms having already chosen good attitudes no matter what comes their way. They go into conversations about groups of peers having intentionally chosen to be full of grace and mercy no matter whose name comes up. I have always assumed I’m just a glass-half-empty person and that it’s more difficult for me to process life than it is for my brother, who is remarkably half-full all the time. My moment of eavesdropping on his self-talk was revelatory for me. We are both living life in this heavy, hard world, and his life is certainly not easier than mine. As a matter of fact, his challenges far exceed mine. He is not ignorant of the temptation towards negativity that I so often fall prey to, but he chooses the tone of his reactions before he is ever forced to

Remarkable. 

That’s it. There’s no major spiritual principle here, although I could probably find one. There’s no major challenge to our culture, although we are ripe for one. There’s no goal-setting for me, although this goal is a worthy one. It’s just a point for observation. I am free to do with it what I may. 

Because after all, it’s my choice. 

Candace Echols is a Midtown resident, wife, and mother of five. She has written for StoryBoard’s Page One Writing Workshops, and writes in quiet moments from her yellow chair. Candace recently published her first book, the children’s book Josephine and the Quarantine.

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