Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dissipating negativity

Yesterday morning, I could almost envision my pervasive sense of negativity as a small glowing sphere that I was carrying around inside me. I knew this was a bad way to be, but I couldn’t seem to shake it. A complicated volunteer collaboration I was in the midst of had become slightly contentious, and the frustration and acrimony were beginning to seem like a physical entity that I had to bring along with me wherever I went, like a baby in a Snuggli pack.

And so I tried to talk myself out of it. I tried to remember everything I knew about the harmful effects of this kind of negativity: the physical toll that stress takes on the body, the sense of spiritual corrosion that being preoccupied with bad feelings rather than good ones always gives me, even the stress headaches that so often accompany situations like this one.

I reminded myself too of my fundamental belief in kindness. Over the past few years, I’ve begun to see kindness as an underrated virtue. Sure, sometimes it’s tempting to try to teach someone the error of their ways or to purge yourself of your own irritation, but the older I get, the more I’ve come to suspect that kindness never really fails. Yes, it would be nice to change the attitudes and approaches of some of the people I was dealing with in this particular situation, but suppose instead I just let kindness lead our interactions? Could I really go wrong with that approach?

And so I responded to a problematic email by thanking the sender for suggesting a different plan rather than by taking offense that she was trying to talk me out of what I had already decided to do. And then, as if through karma, a different participant in the project surprised me by calling to tell me that she agreed with my plan. Gradually, the ball of negativity within me began to dissipate. Nothing had really been resolved; it was just that better feelings were replacing the acrimonious aura.

Later in the day, catching up on Sunday’s New York Times, I was surprised to come across this quotation from Susan Credle, Chief Creative Officer at ad agency Leo Burnett USA, who was describing something she tells her employees: “…Because whether you say something inspiring on the elevator or you’re just nice or you put some positive energy into this office, that’s all helping us [produce succesful] work.”

Reading this when I did, it felt like an affirmation of my earlier thoughts. Putting positive energy into the air: that was what I was doing, to defuse my own negativity and other people’s as well. A leader at one of the country’s most successful ad agencies is saying just what I thought: positive feelings help make everyone function better.

By the end of the day, the group I was collaborating with had worked out all of our bumps in the road and were on course for a well-crafted outcome. My malaise was gone. Kindness and positivity had prevailed, and I felt great about it – as well as really validated.

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