“I don’t think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains.”
~Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl
The upcoming elections and the endless bombardment of negative campaign advertisements have certainly played a part. The floundering economy, the flat unemployment rate, and the ever-increasing fuel prices may also share in the blame. And even the extreme drought and the days on end of excessive heat might be considered key components.
Regardless of the contributing factors, it seems lately that more and more people are becoming thoroughly cranky, aggressively angry, and in many cases just downright mean. And while I can certainly appreciate that “times are tough,” I have a hard time grasping why some are so determined to see only the bad in this world, to feel only its sadness, and to choke repeatedly on their own anger until it completely consumes them. Furthermore, I don’t understand why they are so intent upon stealing everyone else’s sunshine and dragging everyone else down into their bottomless pit of gloom and doom Hell.
And even though I am an advocate for social media networks and all the benefits they can provide, I also realize those same networks have made it much too easy to spread such negativity, incivility and “anti-everything” attitudes. With just a click of a button, anyone can share pessimism, peddle hatred, and spew venom, and with another click of a button, anyone can “like” it.
Some of the negativity is so blatantly obvious that it’s easy for me to scroll right on past it without reading, much less commenting. While I believe in the value of debate based on logic and common sense and truth, I don’t believe that significant social change will ever be accomplished through outrageous public rantings where emotions overtake reason. And I have no intentions of debating political candidates or agendas, religious convictions or the lack thereof, or the merits of eating or not eating a chicken sandwich. I have my own opinions, and in most cases I don’t feel compelled to share them. Some of those opinions, I know, are based solely on what my heart believes is good or my gut tells me is right, but most of them are also formed after careful research and thoughtful consideration, and no amount of raging to the contrary is going to change my mind. So why argue?
But some of that negativity is also expressed much more subtly, and I am left wondering if I’m being scrutinized because I don’t click that little button that announces to the rest of the world that, yes indeed, I do love my dog, my spouse, my sister, my cousin and my Jesus. I have no issues with the people who share such posts, and in many cases I admire their convictions and their confidence in sharing those convictions; I just don’t want to be judged for my silence on such matters because no one but me really knows what my silence means. (Honestly, sometimes I “like” the post because the picture is pretty, and sometimes I don’t “like” it because it has a misspelled word or a grammatical error that drives me insane–so does my “liking” it or not really matter? Nope.)
Just the other day a friend of mine was lamenting the recent increase in hostility, especially in online communications, and made the comment that “It poisons my soul.” That comment saddened me, and it also made me think about how easy it is–if we’re not forever vigilant–for the negativity of others to seep beneath our skin, to pollute our mind, and to color our previously beautiful world in shades of black. It becomes a constant struggle–and we either find ourselves succumbing to its draw or resenting (and ultimately, avoiding) those people for draining our energy and attempting to rob us of our happiness.
Some could rightly argue that I should not be judgmental of these people because I do not know what frustrations they have faced to lead them down such a dreary path–and while this is true and I do not wish to judge them, I do wish I could somehow help them to believe that this country, this world, this life really is not that bad. It really isn’t. Even more importantly, I wish I could help them to see that this country, this world, this life is what me make it.
We all have moments and sometimes entire days (weeks and months) of extreme frustration and justified anger, and we should be able to express those feelings when we feel we are among friends. But when those moments overlap and those days turn into a never-ending procession of depression and bitterness–and we feel the need to shout it to the world–perhaps it is time to step back and re-evaluate not just the situation but our reaction to it.
I have known so many people who have faced unbelievably difficult challenges, challenges that could have easily blackened their moods and destroyed their souls. Some have faced horrible illnesses and have chosen to continue fighting until the battle was won or lost, while others have wallowed in self-pity and allowed the enemy to claim victory much too soon. Some have suffered through debilitating injuries and have chosen to fight to overcome them, while others have allowed those injuries to define them. Some have lived through a horrendous upbringing and have chosen to keep on smiling, while others have used their upbringing to justify their current misery. My heart aches for them all, but I know from my own experiences that we simply cannot allow past tragedies to determine our lives forever. We can choose to be happy, or we can choose to be miserable, and yes, sometimes the choice requires considerable conscious effort, but it can be made.
I am far from perfect, and I am certainly no angel. Sometimes I, too, have made the wrong choice and have allowed misery to be my guiding force. Living inside me is a mean, hateful old biddy–nicknamed Helga–who, despite my best efforts to keep her caged, still occasionally manages to break free and to wreak havoc on my little world. When that happens, my anger boils over, and you can be sure that I can spew venom with the best (or worst?) of them. It’s just that my venom isn’t usually spewed in a public forum or directed at the masses but rather dispensed privately and directed toward specific individuals–which, sadly, may be even worse. But I do try to keep Helga caged and to let her kinder, gentler counterpart Heidi rule my thoughts and actions. I do try to prevent negativity from distorting my vision of the world, choosing instead to focus on all the goodness that surrounds me . . . and I think perhaps that is where the difference lies–that I try to pull myself up out of the mire instead of forever sinking into negativity’s grip.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” I believe that to mean that the best–and perhaps only–way to change the world is to change yourself. Angry, public rantings typically accomplish nothing more than increasing the anger of the person expressing them and the persons exposed to them. If we really want to make a difference, we can instead start by leading through example, by trying to do good things, by recognizing and acknowledging the beauty around us, and by hoping that our actions and our thoughts will inspire others to make the same changes in their own lives.
It’s worth a try.
NOTE: To see a larger version of any picture, simply click on it. And please remember that all photos are copyrighted and can’t be used without my permission (I’m bossy like that).
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.”
~Norman Vincent Peale
“Let your inner sunshine overcome the passing haze of discontent.”
“Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard.
Do not let the pain make you hate.
Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.
Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree,
you still believe it to be a beautiful place.”