Sensational Living®

September-October 2005
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall


This is the first part of a two-part column on negativity in our lives. This part will deal with accepting the negative and turning it into a positive. The second part will deal with avoiding the negative in the first place.

Exactly one year ago, I wrote a column about "Trying New Things" (see that column at http://www.god-dess.com/services_lifestyleAugust04.html). Sometimes, trying new things is met with resistance. I admitted to my own resistance to new ideas when I knew I would have to clean up the mess personally if they failed. Did that indicate a character flaw in me by being "afraid" of the unknown? Did that indicate a lack of trust in my team? Or did it indicate a confidence in my awareness of all variables of a situation in order to evaluate a "plan of attack"? Perhaps the answer lies in a bit of each of these. I'm going to look at examples of negativity in different aspects of life, and we can then consider what can be done to turn this negativity into a positive!

Before proceeding with the examples, I want to clarify the take-home message in the above paragraph: In dealing with negativity in others, when you hear, "You can't do that," it is important to ask yourself, "Is this about me, or is about him/her/them?" That is to say, is this an opportunity for you to improve yourself, or is it that you are caught up in someone else's pain and trauma. Or both? This is a crucial dichotomy to understand to be able to turn a negative into a positive! It doesn't matter that "can't" could refer either to "permission" (ie, "You don't have permission to do that") or to one's "innate ability" (ie, "You don't have the talent to do that"). It only matters whether the negativity is accurately directed on the recipient, or whether it is actually being reflected back at the originator of the negativity.

Let's first look at negativity of parents directed at their children. In some cases, this involves a parent wanting to train their child(ren) in life's basic lessons, and that IS the job of parenting. It is perfectly normal in those situations for a parent, wanted to protect the child, to say, "You can't do that." However, in other cases, the negativity is because of some deep-seated psychological issues. Sadly, a child rarely has the life tools or foundation to be able to discern the difference, and trauma can be inflicted on the child (usually unknowingly by the parent[s]) that can take years to heal. What is important is to realize that healing IS possible, even it requires help from a professional. If you see yourself "becoming" your parents (and I don't mean in a good way), seek the healing process any way possible ("Yes, you CAN do that").

Sometimes we experience negativity from our various educators. It could be an elementary school teacher, a high school coach, an undergraduate professor or a graduate school advisor. Their jobs are to teach us in their fields of expertise, and so that will sometimes require pointing out negatives (you see, we're not perfect, and that's why we need education, so we ARE going to make mistakes). If an instructor's correction is offered in the spirit of helping, please accept it as such, and don't fret over making an error, or not knowing the answer (sometimes an instructor's "personal style" could be improved, but that's a different issue from "negativity"). Unfortunately, sometimes a teacher can be truly hostile, and hostility is a symptom of personal psychological pain. I am saddened by those educational professionals who actually feel threatened by their students, perhaps fearing that they will be eclipsed by their students' accomplishments. I even recall one such individual who stated clearly that he knew it was part of an instructor's legacy to produce talented, exceptional professionals from among his students; that said, he continued on his fear-driven rampage (often accented by his own unique, double-negative negativity: "It isn't that you can't do that …" that became comical despite its darkness).

Entire books have been written on the negativity of supervisors in the workplace. I've read some of them, having experienced "bosses from hell" in my past. If their negativity had been driven solely by a desire to improve the "bottom line," or to help me grow as an employee, or to make our team shine in general, I could have overlooked their negative style. However, as identified by many books, their negativity often seemed to arise from feeling threatened by a subordinate's excellent performance. Will the subordinate surpass the supervisor? Will the supervisor's boss then look down on this turn of events? That is the fear of many supervisors, but often, a boss that mentors will be rewarded for contributing quality employees to the company, which enhances the bottom line. How unfortunate that these supervisors, suffering again from their own internalized fear, don't realize that it is their own behavior that hurts them, and not the behavior of their subordinates? Of course, it is equally unfortunate for those employees who think that any negativity or criticism is solely a character flaw of their supervisor. As I wrote above with regard to educators, a good supervisor is eager to help you grow into the best employee, team member, corporate asset that is possible. So, is the supervisor's "negativity" perhaps really in response to a fixable flaw in yourself? You've got to ask that question! And if the answer to the question is "Yes," then fix the flaw! Or get help doing it. "You CAN do that!"

Have you ever had to deal with the negativity of coworkers? It often takes the form of jealousy, backstabbing, gossiping, and other activities symptomatic of a fear of being surpassed. However, it can also take the form of people criticizing you because you are unpleasant or egotistical or otherwise annoying. As suggested above, sometimes coworkers can feel threatened when a peer outperforms them, but they equally feel annoyed when a peer doesn't live up to expectations or otherwise exhibits inappropriate behavior. Ask yourself, "Is it about me or them?" Then respond accordingly.

Finally, we sometimes encounter negativity in the world at large. It could be a store clerk snapping at us for not having our money ready to make a purchase when there is a line of people backing up. It could be a neighbor complaining about how loudly we are playing our music ("You can't do that!"). I have personally had people verbally attack me, insisting that I can't do what I claim to do for Global Organic Designs Lifestyle Services (in truth, I can do a lot more than I claim to do; I always undersell!). In each case we have to consider whether we have the opportunity to improve our demeanor, or whether we need to understand the background of the individual making the criticism. Or, could it be a bit of both?

Does this column so far sound like a broken record? Does it seem like I'm writing the same thing over and over? If so, that's good. I want to demonstrate that negativity in our lives has common causes that, once recognized, can be turned into positives relatively easily. I wanted to pull examples of negativity in diverse areas of our lives, and show their similarity of causality, and show the methodology for dealing with that causality. There are essentially three outcomes:

1. When you encounter negativity, you ask yourself, "Is it about me, or about him/her/them?" If the answer is "It's about me," then you have an opportunity to grow and learn and become a better person. I cannot express how great it feels to realize that a light has been shone on a personal weakness, and now that I see it, I can work to improve or fix it. It's fantastic!

2. When you encounter negativity, you ask yourself, "Is it about me, or about him/her/them?" If the answer is "It's about him/her/them," then you have an opportunity to practice sympathy, empathy and compassion. Realize that no one is negative by choice. Actually, they ARE being negative by choice, but they don't realize they have made that choice; they are reacting subconsciously to their own internal wiring and internal pain. Fortunately, it is usually "soft" (ie, acquired or learned or conditioned) wiring, rather than "hard" (biological or genetic) wiring, and so the repairs are easier. However, fixing that is THEIR Path, just as when the negativity is about us, it is OUR Path. When dealing with someone else's Path, the only thing to do is to practice your sympathy, empathy and compassion. These are wonderful qualities to cultivate, and as you cultivate them, you can't help but feel positive (and if you DO feel negative, that is yet another light shining on a personal weakness, and you have an opportunity to grow and improve yourself).

3. When you encounter negativity, you ask yourself, "Is it about me, or about him/her/them?" If the answer is "It's about both me AND him/her/them," then you have an opportunity not only to learn and grow as a human being, but also to practice your sympathy, empathy and compassion. It's the best of all worlds! Furthermore, it places the situation in the realm of "us" or "we," rather than an adversarial relationship (ie, "we" are all on the Path to self improvement, and "we" can all practice sympathy, empathy and compassion). After being faced with negatives, you have even more reasons to feel positive about the outcome, IF you follow this methodology!

Very few situations are clearly black or white, right or wrong. As I've written so often, we live in a world of grays. Rarely do we have clear answers, but if we have clear methodologies, then we can proceed along our respective Paths with little interference, and in the process, live the most meaningful, positive life possible. Not to run a phrase into the ground, but these methodologies are essentially an explicit way to "Go with the Flow" about which I've been writing so frequently in this year's columns.

I'd love to hear some of your stories about dealing with negatives in your lives. Please tell me about the ways you've handled negativity and promoted positiveness! You can reach me, as always, at 773.508.9208 or email me.

Please note: this is one time I'm not going to offer to help you. I might be able to put a new spin on a situation, and I'm happy to do that. However, in most cases, the kind of personal healing required in these instances is beyond my level of expertise and training. You see, I am quite willing to admit when I can't or shouldn't do something; when I do claim to be able to do something, you'd better believe I do a darned good job. So much for others' negativity! I CAN do that!