Finding hope and wisdom in unexpected places

Dr. Lisa Garmezy

Bill Gates boosts his mood by browsing Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks. It’s easy for him, since he owns one. Gates reminds himself of the constancy of human inventiveness. Our ability to create through the ages tells him that we can find solutions to the problems we face.

What inspires you? What keeps you going or pushes you toward something better than humdrum existence? Collect quotes, images or ideas that lift your spirits, and you’ll be better prepared for dark times. It’s the mental equivalent of stocking your pantry with batteries, bottled water and canned goods.

Stock the Pantry

Please, tweak your environment to calm you or remind you of who you strive to be. Fun fact: Osama bin Laden’s computer history included cute dolphin videos. If we seed our personal space with supportive messages, they’ll impact us just as surely as the pizza commercials that send us to the fridge.

A police psychologist friend in another state sends out motivational tweets. Miracle the rescue dog, 9/11 responders, brilliant teachers, police puppies and baby sea turtles struggling to the sea feature in her feed. Great choices.

My list changes all the time, but it has one permanent top spot. In 1989 I gazed at the tiny head of my four-pound, 11-ounce infant, wondering what gifts and curses it held. My son’s sheer potential moved me the way Leonardo affects Mr. Gates.

Next, any list of visionaries meant for a police audience should have Edward Thomas in a top spot. Mr. Thomas, as he was known, was HPD’s first African-American officer, serving from 1948 until his retirement in 2011. As most readers know, denied a patrol car, he took prisoners to jail on the city bus.

Profiles in Courage

Simone Biles makes my list, for sure. Never mind the piles of gold medals, I am moved and grateful for what she wrote on Twitter in January of 2018. Simone said, “I am not afraid to tell my story anymore. I too am one of the many survivors that was sexually abused by Larry Nassar . . . I will not and should not carry the guilt.” Thank you to the 156 young women who confronted Nassar in court. Thank you too to the “Me Too” movement, and to Elizabeth Smart, who speaks publicly about finding joy after trauma.

The gymnasts’ statements may not have shaken you, but I was dazzled. Mind blown. You see, I’ve counseled your wives whose psyches and lives were twisted and damaged, sometimes irreparably, by needless shame about crimes committed against their will. Some hated intimacy and reflexively built walls distancing you and everyone else who cared about them. On behalf of those wives, I cheered the gutsy witnesses every step of the way.

My clients with serious diagnoses inspire me. (If you read this, you know who you are.) Dealt faulty wiring by genetics, and families that were hostile or inadequate, they struggled daily to stay on the slippery path we mapped out toward stability and contentment while all their lousy instincts screamed, “Choose self-destruction!”

Gratefully we acknowledge that nurture and nature mesh better than that for most of us. They did for George H. W. Bush, who summed up his philosophy in a letter to his mother. “Tell the truth. Don’t blame people. Be strong. Do your best. Try hard. Forgive. Stay the course. All that kind of thing.”

Since this list is personal and eccentric, I’m going to add J. K. Rowling, who persevered through at least 12 rejections of Harry Potter before Scholastic spotted a goldmine. Throw in the blues, knitting, and quilting, all of which create something beautiful out of hardship. Intricate individualized cable sweater patterns developed from the very ugly need to identify bloated bodies of drowned sailors.

I love the expression on the face of Katie Bouman, the 29-year-old computer scientist who made possible the first picture of a black hole. Her delight at seeing the image has inspired girls to pursue science and technology careers. I also love a contemporary proverb I first heard from Chris Christie: “It’s hard to hate up close.”

Let’s even throw in JLo, who attributes her looks to no alcohol, minimal sweets and 10 hours of sleep per night.

Considering Couples

Twenty-two years as a marital therapist and 35 years of marriage mean I’ve sifted through a lot of marital advice. When people trudging through the dicey bits ask for inspiration, I offer the Song of Solomon: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.”

In a more down-to-earth vein, picture a retiree couple celebrating their 65’th anniversary with a trip to New York City. This one waited in Rockefeller Plaza to wave to the folks back home. A Today Show newscaster asked how they lasted all those years.

The husband spoke first. He avoided a lot of fights, he said, by reminding himself, “Maybe she’s right.” Next the interviewer turned to the wife, who shared a different, forgettable tip. The husband listened, looked into the camera, and said matter-of-factly, “Maybe she’s right.” The NBC crew cracked up.

Making a list isn’t about finding the Greatest Quotes of All Time; it’s about finding hope and wisdom in unexpected places. Keep inspiration close at hand, perhaps with a daily meditation app on your phone. Our moods—and therefore, our days, and therefore our lives–are richer when we remind ourselves that positive outcomes are imaginable and attainable.

I’d love to do a future column on what inspires readers to get through a police shift. E-mail your thoughts to me at Like the elderly husband, I’m listening.