I have an attitude

"I have an attitude" can be the best thing we know about ourselves. The popular humorist James Thurber described a character: "He was always leaning forward, pushing something invisible ahead of him." That attitude gives vision. Sarah Palin's feistiness matches her boldly worn glasses as she looks out and calls it like she sees it. We may not agree, but we listen and tell ourselves to "man-up." In a recent interview Palin said she paid too much attention to campaign managers when she ran for vice president. Believe it or not, she accuses herself of toning down certain ideas-in short, complying. Palin knows what we know: We need to be ourselves. That attitude brings freedom. Former boxer Muhammad Ali and entrepreneur Donald Trump share an attitude trait-an extravagant, seemingly in-your-face, arrogance. Or, is it? They demand notice, and we give it. Is it tongue-in-cheek humor that makes Ali say, "I'm pretty," or The Donald wear his eccentric hairstyle? Are their pouty lips for real or are they laughing at us? Not knowing keeps us interested. Ali and Trump illustrate another I-have-an-attitude point: Some mystery is good.
The late jazz musician Louis Armstrong had an attitude: "I got a simple rule about everybody. If you don't treat me right-shame on you!" Armstrong's famous grin flashed more than teeth. His "outlook," perhaps the best synonym for attitude, called for respect. When he looked out, he wanted to see what he gave looking back. Baby boomers are taking a lot of flak. Like it or not, we're dubbed the Me generation. Some of us deserve criticism about our spending habits and the finger pointing about our obsession with aging and our fight against it. Then again, there's a key here: It's "our" money; it's "our" aging; it's "our" fight. And that is our attitude. Catey Hill, writing for The Wall Street Journal recently, listed "10 Things Baby Boomers Won't Tell You." Her number four is: "We can't face reality." In 2013 the boomers range from ages 49 to 67. Anyone at the high end of that spectrum knows that reality is getting more real than when we were at the low end. It began the moment someone in a younger generation looked past us as if we did not exist. Those studying aging see elderly brainpower improving. Aside from what seems obvious-better healthcare, intellectual stimulation-researchers are stumped as to why. Maybe the biggest promoter of brainpower is exactly what we mean when we accuse someone of having an attitude. Right or wrong, it keeps people alive and lively. Charles de Gaulle, one of the most influential leaders in French history, was critiqued for his "politics of grandeur." To that, he said: "I respect those who resist me, but I cannot tolerate them." That's attitude with a sting, but for attitude to keep us young, nothing beats that of the biblical Caleb. At age 85 he wanted to fight the meanest enemy so that he could tame the toughest territory in the Promised Land. Claiming he had the strength of a younger man, Caleb flaunted his attitude: "I wholly followed the Lord my God" (Joshua 14:8). Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If we seek simple truth, we can find it together-side-by-side. Linda M. Downing is a freelance writer. Contact her at lindadowning.com.