NO MATTER HOW HARD WE TRY TO MAINTAIN A POSITIVE PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE, THERE’S NO GETTING AROUND NEGATIVE PEOPLE. They’re out there—in the next cubicle at work, behind the fence in the backyard, around the family table on Thanksgiving, in the bleachers at Little League games, on the Internet. So how do we keep our positive outlook when confronted, perhaps on a regular basis, with people who travel with their own dark clouds? This is one case where the old adage, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em,” will definitely work against you. You may not be able to change (or beat) them; but you can change yourself, or at least the way you respond to the naysayers in your life. It’s not easy, but with a little practice, you can ensure that your positive perspective stays put.
Change the Culture
“Let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”
—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Father Francis “Rocky” Hoffman, J.C.D., executive director of Relevant Radio and host of “Just Ask Father,” says that when it comes to facing down difficult people and situations, “we either change the culture or the culture changes us.” That “culture” exists not only in the world at large but in our offices, schools, homes, and even churches.
“When we are surrounded by negativity, what we’re called to do is light a candle; don’t curse the darkness. It has to come from the inside,” he explains. “The source of joy and optimism and hope is grace. We can receive grace from God directly or through participating in the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist and confession, or through prayer.”
In addition, Father Rocky suggests making a conscious decision to be positive: “We have to avoid gossip, and gossip is something almost everyone falls into unless they make a deliberate choice. We have to decide we’re only going to say positive things about people. It doesn’t mean being Pollyanna-ish or denying that there are problems. It’s a broad-minded understanding that problems and difficulties are the ordinary news of every day. Let’s talk about the positive things that are happening. Carry the light of Christ with you.”
Being aware of people’s weaknesses and moods helps as well. Father Rocky points out that some people are simply cranky in the morning or at night because they’re tired. Maybe we should give them a little extra space during those times, or at least be more understanding. If we can focus on the mercy God shows us when we fall into bad habits, we tend to be more merciful toward others when they do the same. “The people I know who are most joyful and cheerful and positive are people of extraordinary humility and spiritual life,” he says.
Spending a lot of time on the Internet can expose us to negativity as well. An article on the website PsychCentral revealed “that using social networking sites, namely Facebook, can increase people’s stress levels, produce anxiety and negatively affect a person’s sense of self. Using these sites might even cause a person to develop a mental health disorder or exacerbate an existing one.”
Stay aware of how your time online is affecting your emotions and spirit. If you need to block or unfriend some relentlessly negative or angry people, do so.
Father Rocky adds, “What is written [online] can be heard in another voice than that which was intended…On my own Facebook page, I’ve developed a voice over time. I try to keep it only about things that are positive and inspiring and good and true and beautiful. I avoid the political. Even though I’d like to talk about it, that’s not the place and it divides people. I try to find something that will unite people.”
“Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”
“If you are really getting tripped up with negative people, ask yourself, ‘What does it tell me about myself?’” says Merci Miglino, a life coach from the Albany, New York area, who calls negative people “energy vampires.” For example, do you continually find yourself surrounded by people who complain? Do you tend to jump into the complaining along with them?
Miglino suggests looking at the situation to see if there’s something about complaining—or the complainer—that feeds your own needs. Is it serving you in some way by making you feel superior, affirming your own attitudes, or providing you with gossip? Once you understand your motivations, you can move forward in a positive way.
She recommends distancing yourself from negative people. But if you can’t get away from them, you have another option: acceptance. “Acceptance is not surrender,” explains Miglino. “When I am accepting of something about myself, or a situation, or a person, wow, there’s peace and serenity in that. It takes practice, but with acceptance come possibilities.”
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