After reading How to Be Good, Part 1, Gay asked, “Any thoughts on dealing with other people’s negativity?”
As a matter of fact, I do. First, there’s this recent post about negativity. Second, use any or all of these strategies:
Walk away. Negativity is contagious. If your positive immunity is low, be kind to yourself. Until you feel stronger and more centered, stay away from the germs that might infect your mind with anger, greed and other types of negative emotions.
Practice silence. I’ve been doing this a lot during this election cycle. It’s not worth me losing my temper over someone else’s flawed voting habits. (Please note: the word “flawed” was an attempt at humor.) When people complain to me, I listen, but try not to join in. If I argued, I’d be rewarding them for their negativity. By practicing silence, however, I remove the joy from complaining. Usually people change the topic without my prodding.
Build empathy. Think about why certain people are so negative. Keep in mind that happy people usually don’t complain or lash out in anger. Think about how tortured this person is. Allow yourself to feel what that person must feel: loneliness, emptiness, desperation, emotional tightness, low-self esteem, self-hatred and more. Develop the wish to ease their suffering, even if all you can do is pray.
Grow your selflessness. We become irritated by negative people because we feel that they are ruining our day. Sure, it might be justified, but it’s also a self-centered concern. Try to turn it inside out. Rather than fixating on your mood and your day, consider, “What can I do to help this poor suffering being have a slightly better day?”
Consider reality. I’m a firm believer in the saying, “Things are not as they appear,” as the axiom has been proven to me so many times. I’ve assumed people have been irritated when they weren’t at least a million and one times, if not more. Facial expressions and body language do not always communicate someone’s emotions or thoughts, and people often don’t say what they really mean, either. What you assume is anger might really be fear. What you take as thanklessness might, in fact, be shyness. What you see as intentional might really be a hapless accident. In the end, you can never know for absolute certainty what someone else is thinking or feeling, so you might as well assume the best until proven otherwise.
Rejoice in the seeds of happiness that you’ve planted. Happiness is just as contagious as negativity. No matter the negativity that surrounds you, imagine that you are spreading happiness and goodness wherever you go. You never know just how profoundly you’ve affected someone. You might think you’ve had no impact at all. In reality, you might have changed that person’s life for the better.
Confront others with a pure mind. Before any tough conversation, ask yourself two questions:
- What good will this conversation do? If you are only having the conversation because you are angry and want the other person to know it, some patient acceptance might serve you better. On the other hand, if you are talking because you want to enable a positive change, you’re on the right track.
- Is my wisdom telling me to have this conversation? Or is it my fear, anger, or negativity? If it’s the former, you won’t feel conflicted. Sure what you are about to do might be hard, but you will feel a deep sense of conviction that you are doing the right thing. If you feel at all conflicted, it’s a sign that you are harboring a selfish need to prove a point.
Look in the mirror. When you catch someone else’s negativity, ask yourself, “What allowed me to become infected?” Look into your own mind rather than attempting to read and study someone else’s. Study your fears, attachments and other emotional factors. Use what you learn to grow stronger and happier.
Hear the lesson. Ask yourself, “Is there anything I can learn from this encounter? Can this teach me something about myself? Can it help me to be more understanding of others? If this person were my Cherished Professor of a Meaningful Life, what would this person be trying to teach me?”
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