Thursday, September 25, 2014

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Eliminating Negativity

I wrote this post a while back and then thought to myself, "Self, maybe you shouldn't." And I let it sit in my draft box gathering dust along with other topics that I've deemed controversial (as in, likely to get nasty emails about and/or inadvertently make people feel bad). But then I read something that once again made the vein in my neck throb and that crease between my eyebrows sink deep down into the pit of my soul.

So, without further ado, here is a cultural pet peeve of mine.

I read a lot of inspirational quotes and motivational writing telling people to break off their relationships with negative or "toxic" people. Every time I see this suggestion, I want to punch a kitten.*

*Note: For the record, I would never punch a kitten. I wrote that for dramatic effect. No kittens were punched in the creation of this blog post.

Let me begin by pointing out that this view of self protection is very new and very American. Basically, it is the belief that you should prioritize yourself above all others. That you should be happy all the time. No, wait, that you deserve to be happy all the time. Your main focus should be on your own well-being and if others are dragging you down, drop them.

It flies in the face of 150,000 years of human relationships (and pre-human relationships before that). Humans are made to live in groups with other humans, where they do things like raise children together, feed one another, house one another, and drive each other crazy. Together.

Sure, we have developed a subtle set of social norms that reward people for being pleasant (i.e., popularity, attention, etc.) and punish people for being dicks (i.e., gossip, sarcasm, etc.). Yes, in it's most extreme form this punishment can escalate to ostracizing the offender. This is a big punishment. You know what happened to people who were cast out from society back in the day? They died. Because people, by and large, are unable to live without the care and support of other people.

I'm getting a little far afield, so let me jump back to my point. Sometimes you just can't get away from the negative people in your life, or it would be the height of irresponsibility to do so.

I'm not advocating that you get chummy with every jerk out there. But what if the toxic person is your parent or your child? What if that person has a mental illness? You could follow this new, first world rule and drop them anyway. I can certainly understand why you might want to. Toxic people become a mental and emotional weight; a burden that you carry, and it's true that you can only carry so much. BUT, not everyone can lift you up. If everyone else in your life is lifting you up, then take a step back and look closely because you've become the burden.

We need to support each other. If the burden has become too heavy, find someone else to help you carry it. We are all in this together.

Special-Don't-Sue-Me Note: If someone is actually abusive, or if you fear that they may hurt themselves or others, please seek help.