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The Power of Positive Thinking: Helen Peterson (Transcript)

Helen Peterson

Following is the full transcript of interior design professor Helen Peterson’s TEDx Talk: The Power of Positive Thinking at TEDxDhahranHighSchool conference. This event occurred on February 28, 2015.


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Helen Peterson – Professor of Interior Design (Prince Mohammed University)

Thank you very much.

When I was first considering whether I should accept the opportunity to give a TEDx talk, I spoke with a friend about how a surprise to be asked. After all I’m not globally influential. I’m not famous. I’m really just an ordinary unremarkable person.

And to my surprise, he became quite angry with me and spent quite a bit of time telling me just how foolish I was to be thinking that way.

However I was still stymied by what I had to say the rest of the world needed to hear. And it wasn’t until about three o’clock one morning when I realized I was thinking about it all wrong, that given the opportunity what would I tell my three young adult children and my students, what would I want to describe to them that would improve their lives. And after that, it became very simple and very easy and devious really because ordinarily they wouldn’t listen to me but they’d have to watch my TEDx talk.

So what I want to say – what I want to talk about today and everything I say will tie back into this, is that it is important to recognize the power of positivity.

About 10 years ago, our family experienced a health problem that changed life for the worse really as my husband and I and my children knew it. And it was really a very difficult situation. And for me it was personally devastating, and to me everything had changed for the worse or so it seemed.

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And so I found I was faced with a choice. I could sit around and complain about how bad things were. Or I could put the most positive spin on what was a difficult situation. And I realized that people who complain end up making themselves and everybody around them miserable.

And so I chose to select and work with the positives that I could find and build — rebuild my life based on that.

One of my brothers who knew of my situation commented on how he admired my coping skills. And I told him at that point of my decision and he said, “Wow! Took me years of therapy to realize that.” To me it is seemed pretty simple and I apply it everyday to my life.

This is my third year in Saudi Arabia and I’d like to use a few examples of my experiences here to illustrate what I mean. One of my favorite quotes and has been very helpful here in Saudi Arabia is by Wayne Dyer. And it says, “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Good example. Our compound quite often would — we get up in the morning to try to go to work and there would be no water. And we were getting pretty tired of having to heat water every other morning or so to get ready for work and there were lot of complaints on the bus.

About that time, I was researching water conservation for my design sustainability class and came across the statistic that many people in Africa exist on the average of 3 liters of water a day. And that’s for everything. Double-checking that statistic for this talk, I found that the number might be higher but not by much.

So what we use — what we can use for one toilet flush is what some people are existing on for all their water needs. That includes drinking, cooking, bathing, washing clothes, sanitary necessity.

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So thinking about that, the next time the water ran off, I got up that morning and I said I’m going to take a shower in three liters of water. I want to see if I can do that, because she was like ordinarily been using quite a bit more and tried and found that it’s actually very difficult. It was so left and what do you do… and it was just a shower, and I realized how fortunate I was, because I had the expectation that water would come back on at some point. And that there would be plenty of it. Many many people in this world do not.

And so since then — and because I know that just about every drop of water that we use here is manufactured, I have been trying to conserve water as much as possible.

So when you change your perception of things that appear to be negatives and turn them into positives, you not only change yourself but possibly change the people around you — the people on the bus didn’t appreciate my comments — and maybe even the entire world. So there’s that.

Another component to positive outlook is humor. Laugh. Laugh with people. Make people laugh. Laugh at yourself. Even the most miserable situations can be helped by using a little humor.

A little over a year ago, I was deported from Saudi Arabia. Me! And they still asked me here to talk today. Actually it was over a visa misunderstanding and I was lucky enough that the wonderful father of the lovely co-worker who had been traveling with me managed to convince the Saudi Arabian officials that it was okay to deport me to Bahrain which is nearby, thank goodness, rather than back to Europe.

I was assured by my employer that it would only be a matter of hours and they would have me another visa and they’d get me back into the country. So I went to Bahrain and got a transit visa which is, feel good for about 24 hours, should have known better.

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Saudi Arabia like many countries in the world things take a little longer than you would expect. I was standing in Bahrain for almost a week. At the time I had very little humor about it but I was fortunate in that I had two friends who called me and check on me every day to make sure I was okay and that really did help.

Within a day, of course, my Bahrainian visa expired. Four days later when my university kindly sent somebody to rescue me and take me back to Saudi Arabia, I noticed as we were headed towards the border that the visa documentation that I had listed my occupation as escort. Ordinary enough word except that in the United States it means sex worker.

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