This week, my friend and former colleague Adam Bonner left the charity Livability after 12 years of great work. At Adam’s leaving do what struck me was the impact that his positivity and hopefulness has had on so many people.
He has a great gift for seeing the good in people and the opportunities that exist. One personal example is that Adam was the person who first encouraged me to write a blog!
His positivity challenges me. There have been a number of times recently when I have been negative and said or written things that I regret. I also see so much negativity on social media and I can easily get drawn into arguments. It got me thinking about giving up negativity.
The impact of negativity
Negativity can be toxic. It drains energy and spreads cynicism about whether positive change is possible. It produces echo-chambers of those whose negative views reinforce each other.
Negativity can be contagious. Just as children in a school playground gather around a fight, adults are also drawn to rows and disputes. Perversely, negativity and conflict among others fascinates and excites us.
Negativity tends to blames others. It tends to point the finger at others and simplifies complex issues to someone who can be blamed – often on a particular leader or group of people.
Negativity labels others. It uses short-hand terms which de-humanise those we disagree with. Debates turn into ad hominem attacks, using labels such as ‘liberal’, ‘fundamentalist’ or ‘bigot’ which fan the flames of conflict.
Negativity is popular. Newspapers are full of negativity because humans are drawn to it. Blog posts with negative titles are more popular than positive ones.
Negativity plagues the Church. Whether on a local or national level, it is so easy to focus on what the Church gets wrong.
Negativity has been supercharged by social media. Stephen Fry said
‘Let us grieve as to what Twitter has become. A stalking ground for the sanctimoniously self-righteous who love to second guess, to leap to conclusions and be offended – worse, to be offended on behalf of others they do not even know.’
There are plenty of problems in the world that we need to be concerned about and to be committed to changing. And I know that peace-making often involves speaking uncomfortable truth into situations.
But we always have a choice in any encounter – do we seek to build bridges of understanding – or do we fan the flames of conflict? Does our contribution help produce light or heat?
Isaiah 58 says:
‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourself on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light shall shine in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday.’
And Martin Luther King said:
‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’
A Lent commitment
Lent begins this Wednesday. So, with all this in mind, this year I am going to give up negativity.
I want to train myself to be more constructive and be a more hopeful presence – at home, at work, in my church and my community and online.
So specifically this is the commitment I want to make for the next 47 days:
When faced with disagreement to think the best of the person who thinks differently
To accept the validity of their view and not to belittle or caricature their perspective
To not speak negatively of anyone if I have not spoken to them first
To always seek mutual understanding and not fan the flames of disputes
To recognise when I fail to do the above and to apologise
Who wants to join me?