Pony Optimism or the Wisdom of Ronald Reagan


By J. William DeMarco

There must be a pony in here somewhere.

Optimism… something I struggle with…but I am getting better…

Our future will not be determined by our complaints….life is full of issues, surprises, events we never saw coming… and I have yet to have a bad assignment or a bad job…so, perhaps it is the adjustment of our attitudes that needs to be a lifelong project..

I was blessed to spend a year at the Hoover Institution at Stanford… and actually was able to speak with Peter Robinson and Ed Meese about the Pony Story… I love it and have used it often.

If you are not familiar…here is an excerpt from “How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life” by Peter Robinson:

Chapter One
The Pony In the Dung Heap
When Life Buries You, Dig
Journal Entry, June 2002:

Over lunch today I asked Ed Meese about one of Reagan’s favorite jokes. “The pony joke?” Meese replied. “Sure I remember it. If I heard him tell it once, I heard him tell it a thousand times.”

The joke concerns twin boys of five or six. Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities — one was a total pessimist, the other a total optimist — their parents took them to a psychiatrist.

First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. ”What’s the matter?” the psychiatrist asked, baffled. “Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?” “Yes,” the little boy bawled, “but if I did I’d only break them.”

Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his out look, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. ”What do you think you’re doing?” the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. “With all this manure,” the little boy replied, beaming, “there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

“Reagan told the joke so often,” Meese said, chuckling, “that it got to be kind of a joke with the rest of us. Whenever something would go wrong, somebody on the staff would be sure to say, “There must be a pony in here somewhere.’”

I have used that quote often…“There must be a pony in here somewhere.

I guess the message is…we choose our attitudes…and it is a continuing choice…
We have to take responsibility for our attitudes, not blame circumstances, jobs, bosses, parents, spouses… WE own that, even if we own nothing else.

As John Maxwell notes…The greatest day in your life is when you take responsibility for your attitude. That’s the day we truly grow up.

The Pessimist complains about the wind
The optimist expects it to change
The leader adjusts the sails..

2 Replies to “Pony Optimism or the Wisdom of Ronald Reagan”

  1. Bill:

    Far be it from me to second guess the President, but I wonder if a more useful response might be: “There must be a pony in here somewhere. But if there isn’t I look for one somewhere else.”

    That can forestall disappointment. After all optimism has broad, never narrow, horizons.

    1. True, there is always a counter, but important to stick with a problem long enough to at least attempt to find the pony… of course that just might be a lesson from my undergrad education

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