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JCF Blog

Optimism and the Power of the Human Will

Posted by: Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford on 7/17/2013

Optimism and the Power of the Human Will

“If you will it, it is no dream.”- Theodor Herzl


“Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.” Golda Meir


“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Winston Churchill

Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I believe in the power of the human will.  Perhaps it is one of G-d’s greatest gifts to humanity that we have the ability to visualize and achieve through will power alone.  If you have doubts, I give you the State of Israel.  In the shadow of the Holocaust, remarkable men and women willed it into being.  The dream became a reality out of the will of a people.  


Despite examples like this we are living in an age of cynicism.  Can you blame us?  We are assailed each day with bad news.  The lingering impacts of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression; a national political environment characterized by divisiveness, dysfunction and vitriol; and a host of fears about the future of the Jewish people in North America (including declines in traditional synagogue affiliation and uncertainty over next generation Jewish identity).  


I have spent the last several months talking with members of the Greater Hartford Jewish community and this sense of pessimism has been liberally sprinkled into our conversations.  The community has a hunger for new ideas, new ways of thinking, and new approaches to tackle some of our most intractable and troubling problems.  Yet, I hear in the language of community leaders a sense that change is impossible.  “We have talked about change for years now and nothing seems to happen”.  


There is no question that change – particularly big change – can be hard to achieve.  Nonetheless, examples abound of dramatic, remarkable change that has been willed into being by visionary people.  For the most part, the individuals that helped create dramatic change – the visionaries – were less brilliantly creative than simply stubborn.  They were optimists who simply would not accept an outcome less than absolute victory.   Cynicism on the other hand can be demoralizing and can undermine a community’s ability to achieve greatness.  If you do not believe, you will not achieve.


There is going to be a tremendous amount of discussion about change in this community over the next 12 months.  I believe that real change is on the horizon; change that will make us think differently about what is possible when a community commits itself to reconsidering its purpose and investing in new ideas.  However, we are going to have to tune out those that say it cannot be done.  As a community we are going to have to will it into being.  


As Thomas Friedman once said “Pessimists are usually right and optimists are usually wrong but all the great changes have been accomplished by optimists.”   I am an optimist and I believe something big is coming.  



Give us your feedback (and help us make this blog more interactive) by commenting on any of the following questions:


1)    How can we make our community more “visionary friendly”?
2)    In your life/community, what major social change has most impacted your world view?
3)    How have Jewish values influenced your philanthropy?
4)    Tell us a personal story about the power of the human spirit.
5)    If you are under 30, tell us how you have influenced social change in your own life.

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