Suspending Skepticism: Ignoring Your Inner Ragdoll

Could it be that the biggest part of learning optimism is just figuring out how to suspend skepticism? Is it that simple?

Suspending skepticism seems like an easy thing — a trite comment, really — but I’ve learned that skepticism is so ingrained in most of us that laying it aside is more difficult than we first imagine. From the first time we hear “You’re too big for that chair!” or “Be careful up there!” or the really insidious “Don’t get your hopes up!”, we start assembling a picture of the world that features a tiny ragdoll at the center (that’s us) surrounded by assorted threats, hazards, and disappointments (everything we think, dream, and wonder about).

I’ve become quite a Disney World supporter over the last few days. I’ve written about the superb customer service, the powerful combination of business and artistic vision, and more than anything, the great experience my kids have had at the various parks. But to be honest, I know enough about Disney that I kind of expected all of those things. I expected to see a fun environment produced by a well-run organization.

What I didn’t expect was the impact that Disney would have on me. I’d find myself passing by a ride or theater or walkway. “Nothing too exciting is back there,” my ragdoll voice would say. And I’d start to walk by when invariably a little child’s hand would grab mine and say, “C’mon Dad — puulllleaaaase?”

The first time I sort of rolled my eyes, re-oriented the stroller, and grudgingly followed. “Okay…” I said, which as everyone knows is Dad Code for “I already know that this is a stupendous waste of time, and soon you will learn that too, and then you will understand my incredible power of divination and will listen to me next time.”

But here’s the thing. It was never a waste of time. The concert with Mickey Mouse, the a cappella American folk singers, the 360-degree movie about China — everything was just, well, surprisingly delightful. Just really wonderful.

And what I noticed is that by the second day I stopped using Dad Code with the kids. “Let’s go!” I’d say. “I bet this is really cool!” And by the third day I stopped listening to my own ragdoll. Frankly, I’m not sure I even would have noticed that until yesterday, when we had three people feeling sick and run-down but had to travel home anyway. I heard the rag doll say “This will be awful. This will be a long and horrible day.” But I heard myself say, “We can do this.” And you know what? All things considered, eight hours of travel with six people went flawlessly.

In my book, the greatest thing about Disney World is that it got me to throw my skepticism into the recycling bin. I stopped looking at doors and saying, “There’s nothing interesting in there.” I stopped looking at people and saying, “They are opposed to me.” And I stopped looking in the mirror and saying, “I need to protect the ragdoll.” Instead I started actively walking towards each walkway, filled with excitement about what was coming next.

How effective would I be if I greeted every single encounter of every single day with that optimism and confidence? If we all did?

This is the biggest memory I hope to keep from Disney World. It could be powerful.