Half Full or Half Empty?

I’m sure you have heard the question, “is the glass half full, or half empty?” It is commonly used to distinguish the difference on how someone views life — with an optimistic (half full) perception, or a pessimistic (half empty) perception.

I just returned from spending the weekend with my partner at his mother’s home. She lives near Pittsburgh. Regretfully, she is always one who sees the glass as half-empty.

Listening to a constant barrage of how bad things are (or will be) all day is very trying on the nerves of someone like me who is truly an optimist. Try as I might to point out the good things in life, she inevitably will look for something bad. But I did what several friends recommended: I pasted on a big bright smile and tried my hardest not to let her attitude get to me.

While I was there, I took action to rectify a situation that was unsafe: her home’s old electrical system. The original wiring was more than 50 years old. (Fortunately, electrical work for central air and a new stove had been added on separately and more recently.) Her old system was blowing fuses, and some outlets or switches would not work any more. While she probably could afford to have her house rewired by an electrician, it would cost a lot and while she is not destitute, the cost estimates that my partner got for her were more than she was willing to spend.

So this past weekend, I spent many hours replacing all of the original wiring, outlets, and switches. Now she has a new circuit panel box (instead of old, round buss fuses), grounded outlets, Ground Fault Interrupt outlets where code requires (bathroom, kitchen, basement), and more outlets so she no longer has to run extension cords for anything.

It took the better part of two days to run all the wiring, conceal it properly inside the walls, connect it to the panel box, and have a licensed master electrician connect it to the main power feed from the utility pole. (While I have an electrician’s license, mine is issued by Maryland, not Pennsylvania.)

The electrical work was done, looks good, works well, and brings her house up to code. There are no longer any fire hazards from her old wiring, or from all those extension cords (which always frightened me.) My partner worked a lot outside on the yard and gardens while I was fishing wires and connecting outlets and switches.

When we were all done, enjoying the fruits of our labors, my M-I-L said, “thanks, but what happens when…” then rattled off a number of rare but possible things that could happen, like a tripped circuit, a GFI “popping” (that is, doing what it is supposed to do if there may be a short caused by a splash of water), etc. She even dreamed up impossible things like the electric company raising her rates or charging her more on her monthly bill because she has more outlets than she ever had before. (She isn’t the brightest bulb on the planet.) It was very hard to describe that electric bills are tied to consumption, and that if you don’t have something plugged into an outlet, then just having an outlet doesn’t mean that the electric bill will go up.

We had a bit of a tug-o-war over whether or not “all those extra outlets” were needed. It was hard for her to accept my explanation that she may move a lamp sometime, or furniture may get rearranged, or at some point, someone else may be living there and will want to use outlets in different places from those she uses.

My partner tried to keep her calm and explain things, bless him. But without realizing it, he got caught up in the pessimism as well some times. There were periods when I was working to turn both of their attitudes around. I feel, however, negativity and pessimism is par for the course with my M-I-L.

The difference in the “half-full” – “half-empty” approach comes from one of the fundamental differences of my partner and my backgrounds. He was raised in a pessimistic atmosphere, where I was raised in an optimistic one. I always thought that good things happen much more than bad; we should try to make good things happen for others; and most people are good and try to do the right thing. My partner was not. After 16 years of exposure to me, he generally is optimistic and forward-looking. He just has these set-backs every now-and-then when we spend time with his mother.

But we did make lemonade out of lemons, one smile and off-key tune at a time. (My jaw aches from all the smiling I did all weekend, and my partner will be more than happy if he doesn’t hear me sing The Bright Side of Life any more LOL!) Thanks, “AZ,” Kevin, and John for reminding me to keep smiling. Your advice always works for me, because you have the optimistic attitude that helps keep my focus.

Life is short: show those you love that you love them, each and every day — even if you have to spend a lot of energy sometimes do that.