Negativity seems to have no place in the age of self-actualization. We’re all striving to keep negativity out of our lives.
Many invest all their energy in trying to cultivate a positive mindset. We all know how fragile the balance is to maintain, and we are often concerned with trying to hold onto our inner harmony at any cost.
As a part of this fashion for self-help and personal development, we often read articles telling us to avoid negative people for our own sake.
What does it mean to be a negative person, though? The term ‘negativity’ is so vague that it tells us nothing about individual circumstances or intention.
Should we really be ostracizing and isolating people for not being able to achieve the positivity in their own lives that we have in ours? There may be any number of things hiding behind what we perceive as negativity in a person.
“Only the development of compassion and understanding for others can bring us the tranquility and happiness we all seek.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
1. Mental health struggles
How a person feels about life is truly a matter of perception. A person who suffers from depression or anxiety can see the world as an unpleasant or frightening place. Some people have had substance abuse problems which can disrupt their natural perception, making it difficult for them to see things as they are without an artificial stimulant. Are these people ultimately responsible for the negativity that they carry within them? Did any of us choose the brains we were given? Think about it – even the choices we make aren’t really something we can control.
“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.”
2. Going through a difficult time
Life has its ups and downs for us all, and there are periods when we face struggles which may fill us temporarily with negativity. Sometimes people fall victim to circumstances which naturally give rise to feelings of negativity.
There’s a whole spectrum of misfortunes, some great, some small, which can cause a person to view the world in a drastically different way to someone whose life is, at that time, relatively comfortable and uneventful. Can any of us know what another person is going through – and would you kick a man while he was down if you knew it?
One of the saddest situations that exists is when people have been scarred from opening their hearts in the past to people who ultimately betrayed them. It’s all fine and well when you’re not in the situation, you can tell a person ‘life goes on’ and ‘there are plenty more fish in the sea’, but everyone knows deep down that heartbreak leaves a person shattered. Their dreams and self-confidence are fractured for a while, and they need time and encouragement to get over it.
“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”
― Dalai Lama XIV
4. Self-esteem issues and social anxiety
People can come off as negative when really they just have a broken sense of self-worth and don’t form trusting relationships easily. Hiding behind this guarded exterior can be the most precious and decent souls, who can be the most emotionally intelligent, responsible, and valuable of people when you take the time to get to know them.
5. Professional dissatisfaction and disappointment
How many of us have been in a job that we hated and felt totally powerless to change things? In the last decade particularly, so many people have fallen victim to unemployment, financial pressures, and intolerable working conditions. These things can take a real toll on people’s sense of self-worth and life purpose. It can be harder to overcome negativity in this situation than even in cases of relationship problems, etc. For some, it can be like being stuck at the bottom of a well with no way of getting out.
“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”
― Andrew Boyd
Ultimately, we’re selfish creatures. We could perhaps be less so if life weren’t such a struggle for us all. If there’s water coming up through holes in your own ship, it’s not easy to save another ship that’s sinking.
True compassion is also tough because it doesn’t always bring a reward.
People might not seem worthy. Seeing people suffer also makes us uncomfortable because it reminds us of our own vulnerabilities and we might even react angrily out of fear. You’ve got to ask yourself when you feel disgusted or outraged by the suffering of another person: what is it that’s making me blame this person for his/her suffering? Why should it get to me so much?
Sometimes there just seems to be so much suffering in the world that we feel like we’re powerless to make a difference. But nobody’s asking you to save the world. Every small act of kindness makes a huge difference to the recipient of it – it shows them that there are reasons to go on.
Sometimes we may be kind to someone who shows nothing but ingratitude for our efforts. That doesn’t make the compassion itself any less worthy, in fact, it makes it more so.
It’s the hardest thing in the world to master true understanding and empathy for all suffering, regardless of whether it’s rewarded or not. But until you’re there, you can’t claim to be spiritually evolved or even moral. Meditate all you want and go to church every Sunday – if you don’t help your fellow man when he’s in need, your spirituality is token and meaningless.
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