What is it about human nature that compels us to always dwell on the negative? We can dress up and go to a party. Everyone tells us how terrific we look. One person makes an unkind comment and the whole evening is ruined. All we can think about is what that one person said. We repeat it over and over in our minds. We are cranky on the drive home. We tell our friends what this person said. “How could they? What’s wrong with them? Why are people so mean?” And with that, we actually feel bad. Physically and emotionally. The next day we go to work and again recount what that person said. A heated discussion ensues about how mean and thoughtless people can be. And we continue to feel bad. And those around us now also feel bad. They, in turn, will share the story with others…and so the negative energy continues on. But what happened to all of the positive comments? Where did they go? Why did we forget about them? Or choose to ignore them? Why does that one unkind comment heavily outweigh all the positive ones? It certainly doesn’t do us much good. It doesn’t make us feel better. So why not just let it go? Even better, why not focus on all of the positive comments we received?
A Buddhist analogy resonated with me. I am a lake. If someone throws a stone it can cause a ripple effect. I allow someone to make me feel bad and ruminate over it, I then tell others, they feel bad, and so on. This is true when someone triggers anger, jealousy, resentment, or any negative emotion in us. If we hold on to negative energy, it effects everyone we come in contact with. Or, I can choose to be still. Let the stone fall to the bottom. Let it go and not send any ripples out. Ahh, so peaceful. Letting go of the negative is not, by any means, easy. Don’t get me wrong. It is, by far, the more difficult path. And sometimes it’s important to hear “negative” information that provides value and helps us grow. But with practice, we can learn to let go of the comments and behaviors that do not serve us. Not only will our life be more peaceful. Those around us will benefit from our “lake effect”.
In today’s society we are constantly barraged with negative stories and complaints. What we do with that information is a personal choice. It requires effort and “practice”. We will make mistakes and fail to ignore the negative. Forget to focus on the positive. But slowly, over time we get better at it. Just like any skill that is practiced regularly. Just like dog training. Or learning a new skill or hobby or job. Sometimes it’s not just one voice, but many that are derogatory. Sometimes, the bad comments even far outweigh the good. Much more challenging to ignore. But still possible. Still a choice that you can make.
In my experience, there will always be people that are selfish, insecure, jealous, unhappy, afraid. I choose to look at it this way. These people are in a lot of pain. People that are suffering often want others to suffer as well. It makes them feel better, albeit only temporarily. Their comments and behavior are not right or justified by any means. But we can choose to have empathy for them.
I also recognize that it is their internal struggle and their responsbility to work out. Whether in this lifetime or the next. Most of my life I turned myself inside out to be nice to everyone. I could NEVER understand why anyone would be unkind to me. I always thought it was my fault. That I needed to try even harder to please everyone. Several years ago, I had an epiphany. No matter how hard I try to please everyone, there are ALWAYS going to be people that don’t like me. It was freeing. It was around that time that I adopted a mantra I use to this day. “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” If someone directs their negative energy at me, I do a quick internal check to evaluate if I had somehow caused it. If not, I tell myself “not my circus, not my monkeys” and I let it go. Sometimes it’s fairly easy. Other times, extremely difficult. But that’s life in a nutshell isn’t it? Daily I work on counting my blessings and focusing on the positive. As with any practice, it gets easier over time.
We cannot choose how other people act or what they say. We can, however, choose how we react to it. What do you choose?