After finishing a year dealing with a horrible pandemic, the new year opened with total breakdown at no less than the U.S. Capitol. But it’s not hopeless. Our guest on the Federal Drive with Tom Temin is about to depart from his normal professorial role and assume that of hope counselor. It’s American University’s Bob Tobias.
Tom Temin: Bob, you have come across some readings and some advice that you want to share with us that has to do with, hey folks, it’s not the end of the world and we have a lot of power over how we deal with what we’re all facing.
Bob Tobias: Well, thank you Tom. I have, because thinking for myself, what is the difference between hope and optimism? And what I discovered is that hope is action. What action might I take? Whereas optimism is, I believe, good things are gonna happen in the future, but I don’t do anything about it. So hope is action and optimism is passion. And if I’m looking at things in a hopeful way, what actions might I take? And the first thing is to establish clear, achievable goals, and take the time to imagine the stresses, the roadblocks, the failures that you might encounter. But that allows you to choose the right pathways, and generate a belief and a confidence that the goal is achievable.
Tom Temin: Yeah, it’s almost like a good approach to if you’re worried about debt, is to say, well start saving 10 bucks a month, 10 bucks a week. 100, whatever it is. And as you see it chip away, then you start to be not either pessimistic or optimistic but hopeful because you’re making progress.
Bob Tobias: That’s exactly right. You’re confronting the problem. And in your suggestion, that’s bad. Yeah, I’m in debt, but I can and will do something about it. And number two, is imagine what it will feel like to achieve the success that you’ve defined for yourself. Because often, we just don’t take the time to feel our success. So if you’re making a payment of 10 bucks a week, feel that success. Yeah, I just made 10 bucks toward achieving my goal. And number three, is that hopeful people don’t spend all of their time looking at some unachievable future, but they don’t spend their time looking at negative pieces of information.
Tom Temin: Well, it’s almost like, the old question they used to ask Ms. America, what’s your hope for something? Or what would you like to see? And they say, world peace or worldwide brotherhood. Well that’s nice, but it’s not very tangible. And we look at the opposite, which is everybody at each other’s throats at a personal level, at a party level, at a national level. So you can say, well forget it, it’s hopeless. So between optimism and hopelessness, that’s where that zone of hope lies where you do something.
Bob Tobias: So number four, is that you seek support from others, which allows you to get support from other people for the work that you’re doing. And you can feel like you’re involved in something larger than yourself, and it ignites the confidence to keep going forward. And number five, and I think, probably equally important with the other four, is that I gather evidence from my own life, from history, and the world at large, to guide my plans and my pathways and my actions to manage my fear. Because if I acknowledge my fear, and I’m managing my fear, I can actually measure, and more importantly, notice the progress.
Tom Temin: And you mentioned something earlier to me before we started recording actually that you have done with family members and kids and so forth. And it sounds deceptively simple. And that is to be a tourist in your own city, to show someone the capitals that were also distressed over, or any of the buildings and structures that represent our history and our ideals that are manifest throughout the city of DC and other cities too. But when you see them through the eyes of someone for whom it’s not something you pass every day and get jaded about, it does kind of reinvigorate your idealism and your hopefulness.
Bob Tobias: It does. And I had the experience a couple of years ago of taking a 12 year old grandchild through the Capitol, which I have been in many, many times with my work. And so I pass through the rotunda and don’t notice the paintings. I don’t notice what’s on the floor. I don’t notice the dome of the Capitol. But when standing next to a 12 year old whose eyes are wide open and gaw at what she is seeing, I’m thinking I’m missing an important piece of myself, an important piece of history by just walking through, marching along and not paying attention.
Tom Temin: I remember my college president, he’s deceased now. But this would have been well, decades ago, let’s put it that way, gave a speech in which he said the one thing to never lose, this was his word, is the sense of child-fullness, and very distinct from childish-ness, but child-fullness means that your mind remains open to wonder, to impressiveness to all and not to be jaded at everything. Try to keep that with me. And that’s what keeps me going with thousands and thousands of interviews, they’re never dull, because everybody’s got a great story.
Bob Tobias: Well, I think that’s fantastic. And it is true, because if I can look through a child’s eyes, something they’ve never seen before, and they’re looking at it and feeling it and understanding it for the very first time, it allows us to step back and get some of that energy, and generate some of the hope that we’re talking about.
Tom Temin: NASA gets the best places to work in government scores year after year after year. And that could be part of the clue there is yes, they’re dealing with science and propulsion and radiation and endurance to the elements in space, many, many, many technical and scientific things — but somehow, they never lose sight of what it all adds up to, which is the wonder of the universe, no less. And maybe that’s what helps keep them going that way.
Bob Tobias: Well, I once asked several NASA administrators and people at the top. I said, so how do you keep going, how do you keep remembering and so forth? And they said, well several of them said, I was introduced to NASA through my weekly reader, which is distributed in elementary schools. And I looked at that, and I said, I want to be involved with that. So they understood this idea that we’re talking about, seeing success through the eyes of a child.
Tom Temin: Alright, so some good advice. Bob Tobias, professor in the Key Executive Leadership Program at American University. Thanks so much.
Bob Tobias: Thank you, Tom.