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Seeing life through the lens of a sunny soul

A few weeks ago, I pulled together for Mother's Day 12 columns about inspirational women I've known. And as I read through them, each column was more positive than the one before it.

Like "Home on the Range," I don't like discouraging words.

Psychologists would say I have a high "set point." I'm basically a sunny soul. I like to please. I don't like confrontations.

Old school journalists are more blunt. Editors have chided me for trying to "pray people into heaven." Readers sometimes write me to ask if I "really believe the people I profile are as saintly as I make them."

The answer is, no, they're probably not. Everyone — from leaders to lackeys — has faults. But my sense is we already know that. It's old news.

Among my little brace of Mother's Day columns, for instance, are two about my mother. She comes off looking pretty good.

Did she have shortcomings?

Of course. In fact, she was such a sharing person she even passed some of them down to me. You could say she was "generous to a fault."

But for me, what matters most isn't what's there, but what we see.

If you focus on your gas tank being half-empty, you dwell on what's lacking. You fret.

If you see your tank half-full, you feel fortunate. And that leads to a sense of gratitude.

And I think feeling and expressing gratitude for — and to — others is the best way to get the rest of the tank filled up. And that holds whether you're talking about people, projects or Porsches.

A few years ago, the Nobel novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote a "revisionist biography" of Simon Bolivar — the George Washington of Latin America. In an attempt to balance the ledger and set the record straight, the author looked only at the man's flaws — his terrible hygiene, his lapses in character.

I read the book and found it interesting. But it didn't change anything. Bolivar still liberated Latin America. He was still a hero. In fact, in a perfect world, perhaps people would see his shortcomings and admire him even more for not only whipping the Spaniards but battling his own inner demons.

But we don't live in that perfect world.

We live in a world where people would rather focus on the dent in the fender than the lovely lines and color of the car.

We live in a world where readers pretend to be "stunned" when they learn others aren't perfect.

So, until that perfect world shows up, and I believe it will (see my comments on "high set point"), I'll keep assuming readers know that human beings have a downside and will keep bringing to light the positive.

My sunny inner self seems to feel that dishing the dirt on people in columns would say more about me than them.

It's an attitude, I confess, I learned from my mother — bless her sometimes conflicted, but always constructive and upbeat, soul.

Jerry Johnston is a Deseret News staff writer. "New Harmony" appears weekly in Mormon Times.