One of the most wonderful things about a positive mental attitude is that it's contagious. So while the previous lessons highlight the impact a great attitude can have on the person who holds it, this story shows what a powerful impact it can have on the people around them.
When he was in his early thirties, Dan Dorr decided to climb a mountain. But not just any mountain. He wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa at 19,341 feet above sea level. After all, he was in the prime of his life, with a successful career, living in the heart of Silicon Valley, and newly engaged to be married. What else would you do to top all that?
Well, after months of planning and preparation, Dan left for his great adventure. He flew into Nairobi with his gear, crossed Kenya by bus, then finally arrived in Moshi, Tanzania, at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, and checked into his hotel. By breakfast the next morning, he'd spent forty-eight hours on the African continent, traveling with local people from two countries, three cities, and countless small towns. And that was long enough for him to realize things were not what he expected.
Like most Americans, Dan's image of the people of Africa was shaped by the television commercials he'd seen his whole life that depicted them as desperately poor, starving, miserable, and in dire need of assistance. ("Just one dollar a day can feed this girl . . .") And to be fair, most of the people he met were poor by Western standards. What surprised him, though, was this: He said, "They were happy—happy with each other and themselves. And they were stunning. They stood tall, smiled, and exuded pride and energy. They weren't the sad, miserable people I saw on TV." But Dan was only beginning to learn how wrong his misconception had been, and he had no idea yet how that would impact him over the next ten days.
After breakfast, Dan and seven other climbers went with their guide to the base of the mountain where dozens of local men were waiting. These were the porters. Their job was to carry the climbers' gear up the mountain ahead of them, set up their tents, prepare their food, and carry everything back down after reaching the peak. Dan described them as "dressed in disheveled clothing. In fact, anywhere in the developed world, you would mistake them for being homeless."
But like all the other people he'd met so far, they seemed happy.
So, as instructed, Dan laid his backpack with the others from his group, while their guide selected and assigned porters to carry the loads. He watched as each person's pack got picked up, one at a time, while his still lay off in the corner, untouched. So he started to get a little concerned. "That's when this little guy named Mik, who stood maybe five feet two inches tall, walks over and looks at my pack." Now at six foot four, Dan was equipped with a tall pack that might have been nearly as tall as Mik's whole body. "So Mik takes one look at my pack and walks away. I thought he was giving up on it. So I got more concerned. Then a minute later, he comes walking back over with someone else's pack. He lays it on top of mine, straps the two of them together, and picks up the new bundle, and places it on top of his head! So you have to imagine this little man barely over five feet tall with about six feet or more of equipment balanced horizontally on his head.
"Now I knew my pack weighed almost thirty pounds, so the other one must have also. Plus, he had a small pack of his own gear on his back that must have weighed around fifteen pounds. So there he stood with probably seventy-five pounds of gear, and he takes off walking up the trail wearing only flip-flops on his feet. I couldn't believe it. The first day of the climb was through the rain forest, across a slippery, muddy ground covered with roots and vines. I had $50 trekking poles and the latest $120 full-grain upper leather boots. Plus, I was only carrying a ten-pound daypack on my back. And without that equipment, I would have fallen a dozen times. This guy was carrying sixty pounds on his head and wearing flip-flops! I couldn't think of a worse job to have."
Well, by that night, the group made it to ten thousand feet. The air was thinner, and it was much colder. But when he arrived at the campsite for the night, Dan's tent was already set up and waiting for him. And another porter brought over hot tea with popcorn and cookies. He said, "It was the most civilized camping I'd ever done."
The next day, Dan packed his gear, left his bag for Mik, and headed up the mountain to get an early start. Day two was much steeper and rockier. He found he had to focus a lot more on what he was doing. Then, about three hours into the day's hiking, Dan recalls, "I looked over, and there's Mik. He'd caught up to me with the same sixty pounds of gear on his head. And I felt like I needed to apologize to him for the horrible conditions he had to work in. Then he looks over at me as he's passing and says with the biggest smile on his face, 'Polle, polle,' which I'd come to learn in Swahili means basically 'relax, take it easy.' " Well, that made me feel pretty good.
So later that day, one of the other climbers taught Dan a little Swahili he'd picked up. The phrase was "Haraka, haraka, hiena barraca," which meant "There is no blessing for being first." Apparently, in the Tanzanian culture, there's no value seen in rushing around to get somewhere.
Well, before long, Dan found an opportunity to use his new phrase. The next day, when Mik passed him again, once again he wore an enormous smile. And once again, he said to Dan, "Polle, polle" as he passed. Dan, using his best diction, smiled and responded, "Haraka, haraka, hiena barraca." Well, that sent Mik into an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Dan watched as the six feet of packs on his head teetered back and forth each time he laughed. Both men enjoyed the moment and continued their journey with a smile.
Over the next five days, the climb got increasingly difficult and the conditions increasingly unpleasant. The temperatures could swing from seventy degrees to below freezing in a matter of a few hours. Thick, cold, wet clouds surrounded the climbers as they hiked up to ten miles a day uphill. But the altitude was the worst. At 19,000 feet, there's only half the oxygen available in each breath compared to at sea level. That not only makes the climb twice as hard on your heart and lungs, but it leaves many people with severe headaches and nausea. So as you might expect, Dan's outlook and attitude got more serious and focused, and at his worse moments, even defeatist.
But in every interaction, Mik was the same happy guy he'd been on the first day. Dan said, "I didn't understand how he could be that way. His job was to carry sixty pounds of someone else's stuff up a mountain every day. Yet he always had a smile and a great attitude. It had an enormous impact on me and my attitude. No matter how bad I was feeling, no matter how tired I was, when Mik passed me with a smile, it absolutely made my whole day and gave me the strength to keep going. It made me realize, if this guy can keep a positive attitude climbing this mountain with my stuff on his head, why can't I?"
Even today, when Dan finds himself struggling with anything in life, Dan just thinks back to Mik and his contagious attitude and smile and thinks, "He probably has no idea how big of an impact he had on me that week on the mountain. And he certainly has no idea what a positive influence he's been on me since."
A positive attitude can bring joy to those around you, help a friend take on the day, or even motivate a stranger to the top of a mountain. A great attitude is contagious. Infect someone with yours.
Okay, if you'd like to teach your child to improve the attitude of the people around them, share this story, and then have a discussion about it. Here are some questions to get you started.
Have you ever been having a really bad day, and then someone cheered you up? What did they say or do that helped?
Do you know anyone who seems to always be happy? How does it make you feel to spend time with them?
Do you know someone who seems to always be sad? How do you think it makes them feel to spend time with you?
If a good attitude is contagious, do you think a bad attitude is also contagious? What should you do if you have a bad attitude to make sure you don't infect other people with it?
What can you do starting tomorrow to help the people around you have a positive mental attitude?
Okay, in the final two lessons in this course, we're going to turn out attention to dealing with loss, something we all have to suffer through at some point in life.