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Ken Keller: Addressing the default position of negativity

Posted: September 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 16, 2012 2:00 a.m.

I don’t make a habit of reading obituaries but last weekend while flipping through the newspaper one caught my eye.

A gentleman passed away at age 91 after leading what appeared to me to be an active and fulfilling life.

Three things stood out that might have held him back from having such a life. The first was that he was raised in a rural part of the country and was educated until high school graduation in a one-room schoolhouse. This might have been a handicap but apparently it was not, as he later received an undergraduate degree and a law degree from the University of Southern California.

The second was that he was blind in one eye. This disability might have caused him to be less productive, or hold him back, but it did not. The U.S. Army inducted him because of his excellent marksmanship.

The third was that he served in a terrible place during World War II. New Guinea is a land of steaming jungles and a snow capped mountain range towering at more than 13,000 feet that had to be crossed, all the while fighting a fierce enemy that did not surrender. Many who came home from that war simply never recovered.

He traveled extensively going from the Antarctic to the North Pole and apparently, many places in between. To his wife he was said to say, daily, “God, aren’t we lucky.”

This comment stayed with me all week; let me share with you why it was so impactful. The gentleman in question might have had some bad days and had obstacles to face, but it did not stand in his way. The impression I got from reading about him was that he had a positive outlook and was optimistic about where he was and where he was going.

These days I sense in much of the working community that being negative has become the default position. I’m talking about owners, managers and employees. It’s almost as if the tipping point between being positive and being negative is simply getting out of bed in the morning.

People complain about what they don’t have, or that what they have isn’t good enough or even enough; they complain that someone else has more than they do, or what they should have or what they deserve.

At the heart of it, is who we are as individuals. Are we angry at ourselves for not being more focused, driven, energized, demanding, engaged and successful because of what we have not done, or are we upset because we recognize that others have succeeded where we failed to do as well? Or are we angry and or disappointed in our circumstances?

A reality check is overdue. Negativity kills the individual creator and it kills everyone around them. It’s a disease that is easy to diagnose but hard to treat because it spreads quickly.

I had never heard of Ned R. Nelson until last week, but his short obituary provided five lessons worthy of serving as a prescription for addressing negativity.

The first is that adversity can be overcome. It may not be easy.

The second is that new chapters open in life and business because of the adversity that has been overcome.

The third is that education matters. The name of the school doesn’t matter; what matters is what was learned and if it was applied.

The fourth is that the journey of life is to be enjoyed as it happens and is not to be looked back on in regret.

The last is that we are all, in many more ways than we realize very lucky and we need to acknowledge it.

Thanks Ned, rest in peace.

Ken Keller is CEO of STAR Business Consulting Inc., a company that works with companies interested in growing top line revenue. He can be reached at Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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