Staying positive in a negativity filled world is like swimming upstream. It’s hard work.
My husband and I have recently moved into a seniors’ gated community. He’s retired; I’m not. But I’m loving our new surroundings and I was bound and determined to take advantage of the amenities, including the beautiful swimming pool. It would be a chance to exercise and meet new neighbors.
But it’s been disheartening. I’ve realized that at times, the pool can be littered with more than pine needles, ladybugs, and duck feathers. Some swimmers use it as a gathering place to share gripes against the management. The pool is too cold. The place is dirty. Lot rent is too high.
Even when the pool temperature is lovely, it’s not enough. One woman huffed as she pulled herself up the steps, “Nice to finally get something out of all I pay for lot rent.”
Then there’s the political discussions. Over the past four years, I’ve made a vow to myself to not get involved in political discussions. You aren’t going to change my mind and I have a feeling I’m not going to change yours. Most discussions are based on hearsay, incomplete reports, and twisted truth anyway, so why discuss an incomplete picture? Yet one man seemed persistent one afternoon in venting his anger.
What do ya do?
As my husband and I later sank into the hot tub, I heaved out my frustration in a sigh. “It’s not relaxing to come to the pool and hear all the negative talk,” I told him.
He was kind enough to not remind me that I was now complaining about the complainers. Instead, he commented, “Is there such a thing as Senior’s Disease? If there is, I don’t want it.”
I was kind enough to not argue with him. Seniors don’t have a corner market on group complaint sessions. It can happen with any group, anywhere. But I did agree with him that I don’t want to live that way.
There, in that hot tub, we made a pact. We would be different. We would speak about positive things and be gracious, grateful, and kind.
Jack and I so want to have influence on the people around us, We want chances to share our belief in the power of God to draw people closer to Him even those in the final season of life. In that moment in the hot tub, we realized that if we want to reflect Christ, we would stand out as different from others simply by staying positive and gracious in all we said.
It’s not going to be easy.
Staying positive when everyone else is not can be energy sapping. Yet at the end of the day, I’m more relaxed because I know I did the right thing.
But I’m human. Some days I lack the ambition or courage to push against people’s negativity. I’d rather go hide in my personal corner of the pool or just go home. It’s tempting to get swept into the discussion. When unfair situations become personal, like our misunderstanding with the local mail service in getting mail delivered to our new address, I blurt out my frustrations over bumbling bureaucracies like the best of complainers. But truth be told, when I’m done complaining to other people, I don’t feel any better about life or myself and my listeners don’t either. I’m reminded once again that a gracious, grateful, and kind approach to life really is the better way.
Jesus never promised it would be easy. The road less traveled will naturally have more stones, overgrowth, and creeping vines to trip us up. It’s lonelier because less people travel the road of right choices. Yet others will notice by the very fact that we’re swimming the opposite way.
I need the resolve and instinct of a salmon who pushes against the forces of the prevailing flow of conversation. What is the secret of staying positive in a pool of negativity?
1. Make the commitment.
Determine beforehand that you will do everything within your own speech to be complementary, kind, gracious, compassionate, and grateful, and that every word you speak will express your values. When thoughts come to mind during a conversation, count to three and do a recheck, asking yourself if your conversation addition reflects your core values.
2. Target the complaint recipients.
Listen to the complainers. Who are they complaining about?
- Business management
- Church leadership
- Government officials
- Family members
- Service people
Take the initiative to show appreciation to these specific people. Unless we’ve been in their shoes, I think we can’t begin to imagine the complaints and criticisms they field on a regular basis. As my mail carrier told, “Everyone thinks undelivered mail is my fault.” He’s right. There are many more people involved in getting a piece of mail from one place to another besides him.
Be sincere. Look at what the person is doing well and tell them so. Say thank you for what they do for you. Show interest in them. Ask about their week.
3. Deflect the conversation.
When I realized that the neighbor ranting against the government wasn’t interested in anyone’s opinion but his own, I decided to just say nothing. Nothing at all. I kept listening. He ran out of steam and finally said weakly, “Just saying.”
In addition to our refusal to join the conversation, we can redirect the talk. As Mr. Political tried again, a woman entered the pool. I complemented her on her wide brimmed straw hat. We became engaged in a few sentences about swimming head gear and Mr. Political soon left the pool.
Should you say something directly to stop negative talk? That’s up to you. I’m not that bold. I can think of all kinds of things I want to say when I’m sequestered in my office:
- “It’s against my religion to talk politics.”
- “My stomach isn’t feeling well today. Can we talk about something more pleasant?”
Okay, maybe that’s too blunt. But I’ve learned one strategy that does not work. I cannot use my positive comments to argue against the negative comments. My words merely act as fuel for their fire.
4. Choose your battles.
Sometimes problem solving is necessary. It’s not complaining; it’s problem solving. You can show the difference in three ways:
Talk directly to the person involved. If you have an issue with someone, go to them. Don’t make it a matter of discussion in the swimming pool or the hair salon with outsiders who are not part of the problem.
Work toward solution. Hashing and rehashing the problem gets everyone nowhere. If you cannot be satisfied, then you are complaining. Before you confront the person involved, determine your preferred solution. Anticipate a compromise that you would be willing to live with. And when solution is reached, be sure to let your inner circle with whom you’ve shared your frustration know that the problem has been resolved. Everyone likes to hear a happily ever after ending.
Let the small stuff go. Determine what is worth pursuing and use your energy to solve those problems. At all other times, continue to be supportive, gracious, and grateful.
The Pay Off
My gift card at our local convenience store was not working. Several clerks had not been able to solve the problem. I finally connected with the daytime manager. Part of my frustration stemmed from not being able to see the numbers on the back of the card they wanted me to type into the credit card machine. My voice started to betray my angst.
“I’m sorry,” I told the manager and the clerk standing beside her. “I really don’t want to be a complainer and this problem is not your fault. I just want to see it resolved.”
“You are not complaining,” said the clerk. She happened to be the mom of one of the children who attended our church’s after school program. Then she spoke heartwarming words. “We know you. You aren’t that kind of person.”
And they quickly solved my gift card problem.
5. Go on the offensive.
Have a mental index card file of pleasant topics. If the pool temperature is great, say so. Talk about the lovely evening, your neighbor’s beautiful flowers, or something good you’ve heard happening in your community Become known as someone who talks only about the good, the beautiful, and the happy things.
Need practice or reinforcement? Join my Facebook group, What I Saw Today, where group members share photos of creation and stories of what they see God doing in the world.
How did I learn about staying positive?
My Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Eldon were the kind of people who knew how to swim upstream. They always had positive things to say. I don’t think I ever heard them complain about anything or criticize other people. That day in the hot tub, my husband and I said almost at the same time, “We want to be an Aunt Charlotte and Uncle Eldon” to this neighborhood.
You can have that kind of influence on your corner of the world too. If you’ve been the negative type, it’s never too late to change. Besides, people who know you will notice even more when you do a turnaround. That might be the best witness of all.