The pessimist, the optimist, and the pony

In his quest to develop a theory of everything, Ken Wilbur reads widely, wildly, even wantonly. He is known to say that there is a kernel of truth in every theory. Everyone gets something right, so it is never appropriate to completely dismiss someone completely out of hand. (Of course the trick in this is discerning the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the right/helpful from the wrong/the unhelpful.)

In that spirit, here’s a story attributed to Ronald Regan. I am not a huge fan of Ronald Regan’s politics. But, there is something about this story and the implications that the folks in his administration drew from it. Sure there are dozens of other versions of the story on the internet, but this one just kind of makes me smile. So, in the spirit of Pennsylvania’s Lackawanna County District Forester, Manny Gordon, I hope that you will “Enjoy, Enjoy, Enjoy!!”


Once upon a time, in a place where families dearly loved their children there were twin girls whose appearance evoked the comment “two peas in a pod” and whose personalities stood as polar opposites! The girls’ parents were worried that the girls were developing extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — and so their parents took them to see a social worker. 

First the social worker opted to engage with the pessimist.  Trying to brighten her outlook, the social worker took her to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys.  But instead of yelping with delight, the little girl burst into tears.  “What’s the matter?” the social worker asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?”  “Yes,” the little girl cried, “but if I did I’d only break them.” 

Next the social worker reached out to the optimist.  Trying to dampen her outlook just a bit, the social worker took her to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure.  But instead of wrinkling her nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the social worker had been hoping to hear from her sister, the pessimist.  Then she climbed to the top of the pile, dropped to her knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop of poop with her bare hands.  “Would you share with me what you’re doing?” the social worker asked, just as baffled by the optimist as she had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little girl replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!” 


It is said that Ronald Regan told his version of this story so often, that whenever something went wrong one of his staff was sure to yell out, “There must be a pony in this somewhere.” That would break the tension, and the laughter would let them dig in with a fresh perspective and renewed energy. And sometimes that is just what our work for social justice and human rights needs – a respectful laugh break that enables us to come back with fresh energy and a different perspective.

So, keep looking for that pony, it’s got to be in there somewhere!!

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