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Negativity and Choice

A few weeks back, I undertook a simple exercise. For a single day, I took note of how many times I had a negative, angry, or cynical thought, or came across something that produced a negative reaction. I told myself that I didn’t have to act on these observations, I just had to make them. As you can no doubt guess, the results weren’t encouraging. I discovered what I had feared: I was one angry individual.

I started tallying the instances, but I had to give up out of sheer volume. Another driver annoy me on the commute? Angry. Barista botch my coffee order? Angry. Co-worker tell me about their house plans? Sneer. By the end of the day, it became obvious that my default state was one of negativity and cynicism. At any given moment I had my anger at the ready. By taking notice of my anger, I was able to realize how much energy was required to sustain it. Why was I so angry? Why was cynicism my default?

The real answer likely requires therapy, but I think the immediate answer is plain: Fear. Cynicism, negativity, and anger are easy defaults. They allow one to not care about anything too deeply. They allow one to hold the comfortable positions of smartass, no-man/naysayer, and detached cynic. They allow one the easy comfort of building and contributing little or nothing. It’s tough to see the good or positive in things and situations. It’s harder to build than it is to criticize or tear down. It’s easier to hold back out of fear than it is to give and contribute. Putting positive work and demeanour into the world involves real labour, exposure, and risk. It involves the possibility of ridicule and appearing foolish. It also involves the possibility of making a small corner of the world a bit better for others, or even for one other person. A funny thing can happen when you set out to impact the world positively. You can end up making yourself positive in the process.

We are what we put into the world. We decide how we behave, and we are how we act. Our defaults are changeable. Our positive contributions are possible, permissible, and necessary. Time and other people won’t wait for us to swap our negativity and cynicism for positive contribution. The naysayers and no-men will always be there and will always be vocal, no matter what we do. Will we stay safe and play to them, or will we risk more by playing to those who need us to be better? I believe I’ve made my choice.

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