“To state the facts frankly is not to despair the future nor indict the past. The prudent heir takes careful inventory of his legacies and gives a faithful accounting to those whom he owes an obligation of trust.” -John F. Kennedy

Tonight’s State of the Union Address by President Obama made me reconsider my research and work on positivity. The problems facing this country in the short and long term are sobering. The leadership’s willingness to work together to make changes long overdue is lacking. The cynicism and lack of involvement of the citizenry is understandable and also not helpful. The bigger a circle that you cast, the more complex and overwhelming the problems become.

Yet, President Obama remains optimistic in the face of all this, and also a little greyer as he orated about a future that can include all of us. There was nothing Pollyanna or sugar coated about his words. He realistically accounted for the slow and costly steps towards stability we have been traveling as well as the distasteful decisions we have had to make to get there. In spite of a Congress more divided than ever, he remains optimistic that the leaders can get out of their own way and do the right thing for the people who elected them to serve.

I really liked hearing his words of accountability. I was heartened to be reminded of the truth that instituting big changes for some 300 million of us is challenging, messy, loud work that requires commitment and dedication from all of us. The positive spin is the realistic one that is framed by the stories of real people that give us hope in both our collective values and of the power of individual acts to make big differences. Little boys who give their allowance for victims of an earthquake, and people willing to help in big and small ways in their community and even in disaster areas far from their homes.

Positive thinking is not a “pie in the sky — all your dreams come true” proposition, but rather the willingness to say yes over and over to the hard and sometimes thankless work of caring, of making life a little better for someone else. It is in the spirit of generosity and hope that our positive aspirations make the world a better place. Things are really hard for so many people and there is so much goodness in the world generated to deal with it all. Striking a balance between the needs and the resources is a continuous process.

It is easy to let the state of things get the better of us. Calling up what is courageous and altruistic in our humanity and demanding that it be the foundation of the civilization we are creating together is the only positive future we can build.