You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi
We have all experienced the person.
The person with the negative attitude whose dark cloud metastasizes throughout a relationship, family, business or community, bringing discord, disorder and disaster.
In order to maintain harmonious relationships, Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit says that there are five “cancerous” behaviors we need to stop, not only within ourselves, but also in others.
Complaining. Criticizing. Comparing. Competing. Contending.
Five behaviors that destroy relationships.
Complaining. Nothing is ever good enough for the person who complains.
Criticizing. Nobody can ever do anything right for this person.
Comparing. This person compares people or possessions with envy, jealousy or put-downs.
Competing. This person thinks they are better, smarter or richer than everyone else.
Contending. This person tries to make other people look like losers, so he or she can look like a winner. Everything is a competition.
How can we protect our children from developing these attitudes? How can we change negative behaviors?
Be an example of a positive attitude. My nine-year old friend Caiti told me about her first trip to see the Red Sox. Caiti described the game-stopping downpour in the 7th inning. ‘Wow!” she beamed. “Some people have to go to 10 or 20 games before they get to experience a rained-out inning. I got to see it my first time. Can you believe how lucky I am?” Bet you Caiti’s ability to make lemonade out of lemons began at home.
Realize negative attitudes signal something deeper is happening. Judith, an attractive professional looking salesperson, criticized co-workers’ and customers’ appearance. Recently divorced, the five cancerous behaviors fed on Judith’s insecurity and damaged self-worth. Among her daily comments: Can you believe her make-up? He’s sure a Bozo in that tie. Where did she find those rags?
Judith’s apartment burned to the ground, literally leaving her with only the clothes on her back. All her possessions—make-up, clothes, jewelry, car—gone and uninsured. Customers and co-workers came to her aid, and Judith understood that there were people who cared for her, no matter what she looked like, or what she had said.
Judith told me, “I’ll never make another unkind remark about someone. You never know what a person has endured. You have to try to look at the real person. We are all worthy of respect.”
Smile and encourage skills. A person’s negativity can seem to be beyond our ability to comprehend and change it. The key attributes to effecting positive change in our relationships are to increase knowledge, sharpen skills and alter attitude. We tend to focus on knowledge and attitudes, when focusing on skill development might be the solution.
Six-year-old Allie refused to write. “Everyone can write better than me. Please don’t make me write,” Allie cried.
Allie’s attitude loomed large. So I smiled, and directed Allie to hand strengthening activities. I encouraged her to draw with colored pencils, and to decorate the edges of paper with designs. In a few weeks, her hands developed enough for her to feel successful in writing.
As Allie’s skill grew, her outlook improved. In the interim I met her complaints and comparisons with a smile, knowing I could not change her disposition. Focusing on strengthening skills indirectly allowed Allie and me to maintain a harmonious relationship.
When we are up against complaining, criticizing, comparing, competing and contending attitudes, we need to remember to look on the sunny side, seek to understand the root of the behavior, and smile while encouraging new skills.