Last weekend, we took our girls to an annual gingerbread exhibition we visit every year. We saw this colorful and cute rendition (above) of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. I remember as a child how terrified I was of this nasty green creature, but as I got older, I began to appreciate Dr. Seuss’ need to teach readers about a group of misunderstood people. The story reminded me of a current situation affecting our own little Whoville, our neighborhood.
We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names, but they all have learned to live together in the same box.
— Robert Fulghum
A little over a year ago, a resident decided to create an account for our neighborhood with a popular social media tool. This tool has helped reunite numerous furry friends with their owners, is building awareness about our community, increasing community vigilance against crime, and is building a great contractor referral network. The tool even helps us with community outreach, as neighbors seek donations and goodwill. But (there’s always a “but”)…
Unfortunately, an unintended consequence developed within the last year, and it has become even more challenging now that the neighborhood is adjacent to a major reconstruction zone. Several complainers joined the network to make regular complaints about the neighborhood and city, and they rarely make a positive contribution. While some of their concerns had been valid, it quickly became evident that their motive was to simply “unload” over taking proactive measures. They wanted a place to rant. These particular people belong to a type of personality often linked to that infamous green meanie, the:
(Noun, informal) A person who is mean-spirited and unfriendly.
Synonyms: complainer, dampener, grouch, moaner, pessimist, doomsdayer, party pooper, prophet of doom, stick in the mud, wet blanket
We’re all familiar with grinches. They are in every group and situation, and need a forum to be heard. Admittedly, we have each been one at some point, especially if we’re going through a tough life situation. After all, we’re not perfect. However, when most of us get over our challenges or realize we’re acting out of line, we “shake it off” and get on with life. Yet there are some, who, for many reasons, simply need a place to spread negativity. From the grinches’ point of view, everything is wrong, they are never happy, and they are deeply mistrustful of everyone and everything.
As for the neighborhood, no amount of placating, trying to change the subject, or even direct but diplomatic comments have abated the grinches. These prophets of doom aren’t happy, and they need to let the world know. So, what do you do? Let’s pull out our mindfulness tool bag and see.
Ignore the Dialogue
Don’t give negativity any power! No matter how well intended your thoughts may be, they will only add to the grinches’ need to prove themselves right. By saying nothing, the energy to keep the conversation going dies. If a person is determined to be right, no amount of debate on your behalf will change their minds, no matter how maddening or unreasonable their thoughts may be. On the other hand, if the person is trying to incite violence or breaking the law, it is best to contact the proper authorities.
Change the Subject
People passionate about a subject can get lost in it, so all the situation may need is a “redirect.” Cut the conversation short and change the subject. This tactic doesn’t always work, but comes in handy if you are in a live conversation that has become unproductive. The easiest approach? “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Please change the subject.”
Stand Back and Learn from the Situation
Every single person and event we encounter in life, pleasant or not, comes with a lesson. Any time you run into someone you find unpleasant, ask yourself, “what am I supposed to learn from this?” and “what part of me is reacting to that person – and why?” You may feel too angry or frustrated to find an immediate answer, so here are some thoughts:
I know how I deserve to be treated, and this is a lesson on how NOT to treat others.
Oops – I remember saying (or doing) something like this to someone. I’m looking at a mirror image of my “ugly side.”
This conversation is uncomfortable. Words are very powerful tools, and I now realize how different words can sway the mood of a conversation or make it unproductive. I plan to be more mindful with my words when I want to set the tone of a conversation.
Yep, you have that one right. This isn’t an easy step to take, but it can help you better understand where these individuals may be coming from, especially during the holiday season. Words initially projected as anger are really based on fear, insecurity, low self-esteem, and pain (emotional and/or physical).
To empathize means to understand one’s feelings. This is not about taking pity nor about fixing the situation. This is about understanding that anger is often a manifestation of emotional or physical pain, frustration, and fear. Notice how your inner frustration at the grinch changes when you think, There is something going on in that person’s life to make them hurt, fearful, or angry. They must be carrying a lot of pain. Boy, am I lucky!
Don’t Try to be a Hero
It is not your job to save the grinch – your job is to focus on your thoughts and reactions. People who want the help will ask for it – and from the appropriate resources. This piece of advice may sound harsh, but believe me, the outcome is never pleasant if you “try to help someone” who doesn’t want your assistance.This isn’t about fixing other people – this is about fixing your perceptions and reactions.
Take a Few Deep Breaths
Whenever you are frustrated by a person or situation, pause and take a few slow deep breaths with very slow exhales. The breathing will calm you down, and prevent you from saying something you may regret at a later time.
Monitor Your Thoughts & Actions
Don’t become a grinch yourself! Monitor your thoughts and actions. It is very easy to fall into the rant cycle when one person starts negative dialogue. Ditch that inner judge and come back to your center, your peaceful place.
Ask yourself if your thoughts and comments are feeding the negative situation. If they are, let them go. Are your perceptions about the situation, or are they coming from some inner demons you’ve not resolved? Perhaps this is an opportunity to address those issues.
We all want to strive to be like that box of Robert Fulghum’s crayons. Yet despite your best attempts, you may find that the naysayers are too loud, too negative, or too overpowering. Perhaps you are the only one who sees the situation in a different way. Sometimes you have to surrender and say, “I’m leaving – this group or situation isn’t productive.”
If you leave, remember this – you will always meet another grinch. How you perceive a situation and others will determine how happy and comfortable you are with yourself and others at any given time. So if you leave, be willing to learn from this experience for future encounters.
Our own Whoville continues to thrive. It is a lovely place with great schools, wonderful friends, and great amenities – not to mention the redevelopment that will soon be within walking distance. The grinches are still active, but we have powerful tools in our hands – our mindfulness, a healthy outlook — and a delete button.
Raghunathan, Raj, PhD. 19 March 2013. Dealing with Negative People: Why Dealing with Others’ Negativity May Involve Dealing with Your Own Negativity. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sapient-nature/201303/dealing-negative-people Accessed 8 December 2014.
White, Donna M. 15 July 2013. 4 Tips for Dealing with Critical or Negative People. Psych Central. http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/07/15/4-tips-for-dealing-with-critical-or-negative-people/ Accessed 8 December 2014.