“Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” ~Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
A woman with whom I once worked seemed to talk non-stop and loudly, interrupt incessantly, gossip about whomever wasn’t in the room, constantly complain, and live quite happily in martyrdom.
It seemed nothing and no one escaped her negative spin. She was good at it. She could twist the happiest moment of someone’s life into a horrendous mistake. She seemed to enjoy it too.
At first, my judgmental mind thought her behavior to be quite inappropriate. I simply didn’t approve of it. But after weeks of working with her, the thought of spending even one more moment in her presence sent me into, well, her world.
Her negativity was infectious. More and more, I found myself thinking about her negativity, talking with others about her negativity, and complaining about her constant negativity.
For a while, though, I listened to her whenever she followed me into the lunchroom or the ladies’ room. I didn’t know what to say, or do, or even think. I was held captive.
I’d excuse myself from the one-sided chit-chat as soon as possible, wanting to someday be honest enough to kindly tell her that I choose not to listen to gossip. Instead, I chose avoidance. I avoided eye contact, and any and all contact. Whenever I saw her coming, I’d get going and make for a quick getaway. I worked hard at it, too.
And it was exhausting because whether I listened to her or not, or even managed to momentarily escape her altogether, I was still held captive by her negativity.
I interacted with her only a handful of times a month, but her negative presence lingered on in my life. And I didn’t like it. But what I didn’t like didn’t really matter—I wanted to look inside myself to come up with a way to escape, not just avoid, a way to just let go of the hold this negativity had on me.
And when I did look within, I saw that I was the one exaggerating the negative.
I chose to keep negativity within me even when she wasn’t around. This negativity was mine. So, as with most unpleasant things in life, I decided to own up and step up, to take responsibility for my own negativity.
Instead of blaming, avoiding, and resisting the truth, I would accept it. And, somehow, I would ease up on exaggerating the negative.
I welcomed the situation as it was, opening up to the possibilities for change within me and around her.
I knew all about the current emotional fitness trends telling us to surround ourselves with only happy, positive people and to avoid negative people—the us versus them strategy for better emotional health. I saw this as disconnecting, though.
We all have times when we accentuate the positive and moments when we exaggerate the negative. We are all connected in this.
Instead of attempting to continue to disconnect, to avoid being with negativity, while just denying my own, I wanted to reconnect, with compassion and kindness toward both of us.
She and I shared in this negativity together. And once I made the connection, and saw our connection, a few simple, and maybe a little more mindful thoughts began to enter my mind, and my heart. This reconnection would be made possible through love.
And these simple little, love-induced thoughts spoke up something like this:
- Patience can sit with negativity without becoming negative, rushing off to escape, or desiring to disconnect from those who choose negativity. Patience calms me.
- And while I’m calm, I can change the way I see the situation. I can see the truth. Instead of focusing on what I don’t like, I can see positive solutions. I can deal with it.
- I can try to see the situation from the other person’s perspective. Why might this woman choose or maybe need to speak with such negativity? I can be compassionate.
- Why does what this woman chooses or needs to say cause me to feel irritated, angry, or resentful? I have allowed her words to push my negativity buttons. I can’t blame her.
- She doesn’t even know my buttons exist. She’s only concerned with her own needs. I’ve never even told her how much her negativity bothers me. I see what truly is.
- I see that we are both unhappy with our shared negativity. People who complain and gossip and sacrifice themselves for others aren’t happy. I can help to free us both.
- I will only help. I will do no harm. I have compassion for us both. I will show kindness toward both of us. I will cultivate love for us, too. I choose to reconnect.
- I will start with me and then share love with others. May I be well and happy. May our family be well and happy. May she be well and happy. I choose love.
And whenever I saw her, I greeted her with a kind smile. I sometimes listened to her stories, excusing myself whenever her words became unkind, much the same as I had done before. But I noticed the negativity no longer lingered within me. It disappeared as soon as I began choosing love again. I was freed. And I was happier. And compassion, kindness, and love had made me so.
My desire was not to speak my mind in an attempt to change hers, to change her apparent need in choosing negative words. I did hope she might free herself from negativity and liberate herself by choosing positivity instead. Our reconnection was complete, quite unlimited, too, and it gave me hope that happiness could be ours, shared through our connection.
I continue to cultivate this loving connection, being compassionate and kind whenever people, myself included, choose to speak negative words, for we all do from time to time. We are positively connected in this negativity thing, and everything else. And compassion, kindness, and love happily connect us all.
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt