There is an epidemic that’s happening in the United States. It is not anything biological, but instead it’s more mental. I’ve been noticing this for some time now, but it made itself dramatically apparent a couple weeks ago as I was sleepily traveling from Sky Harbor Airport in beautiful Phoenix back to my home in Kansas City.
It was Halloween and certainly a strange day to travel. As I walked through the airport I noticed interesting characters diligently working at aromatic coffee shops, busy newsstands, and crowded ticket counters. There were the usual suspects; cowboys, vampires, zombies, and of course several of the typical “sexy kittens” throughout. While all of these costumed characters were somewhat strange on a normal business trip, nothing shocked me quite as much as a bearded six-foot purple Teletubby working at my gate. The head-to-toe fuzzy outfit definitely stood out in the sea of “normal” costumes and the agent who was proudly wearing it was having a great time standing out. Even more interesting was how he went about his duties in such normalcy, working on his computer terminal, talking over the p.a. system, and cheerfully taking tickets from business and casual travelers boarding and exiting their planes.
While this image was certainly weird for a normal travel experience, I felt that it was fun, imaginative and a terrific way to spice things up and create an uplifting day for everyone in the airport. Then I was abruptly and shockingly brought back to the reality of our cynical 21st century society when another passenger entered the gate area, saw the purple attendant and muttered in a volume just audible enough for the other passengers to hear, but yet soft enough so as to not alert the Teletubby, “Oh my God…Unbelievable” in a crudely disgusted tone. Instantly, just like a dark fog of negativity descending upon the gate area, the sunny smiles on the faces of everyone in the vicinity faded. Eyes averted, heads dropped, and everyone calmly drifted back into their own internal worlds and the magic was gone. This one person’s critical judgment interrupted the positive energy and in its place was left a negative, dark feeling that seemed to state that silliness and fun should be reserved for children, and adults need to just act…well…like adults.
Don’t we see this type of thing every day? People seem to be almost drawn like gravity to the dark, black hole of critical judgment. More and more, I see conversations between friends and strangers alike begin with a negative comment about something. “The weather has sure been crappy lately…The traffic was rough this morning…The business results have sure been tough…My health sure could be better…My schedule is so busy…The weekend went by too fast…My family is so annoying.” Certainly things aren’t always peaches and cream and we need to live in reality, but this seemingly complete absence of a bright, positive view of the world around us is making us more and more critical, cynical and overall negative.
Beginning today, let’s flip things around with an experiment I call “Flip It”. Instead of complaining about the three days of rain that we’ve had, let’s intentionally smile and say how glad we are to have the moisture for our lawns and gardens. Rather than griping about the traffic, let’s intentionally enjoy the alone time we have with our own thoughts and use that time to focus internally on ways to make the day better for everyone around us. Instead of complaining about how busy we are, let’s intentionally be thankful that we have work or other things to keep us occupied. Rather than saying how fast our weekend sped by, let’s share the amazing details of each moment, and instead of seeing our family as annoying, let’s intentionally look deeply into the beauty of those who are the closest.
Of course we need to live in the “real world” where negative things happen, but we don’t need to continue living there all day and we definitely don’t need to randomly share the negativity with those around us. When things go wrong, get upset. It’s okay to feel the negative thoughts, its natural and part of our humanity. Let’s just not let the negativity of that single event command our every waking thought and every conversation that we have with others.
Our mindset is a fragile thing. It is easily swayed. Negativity breeds negativity. It feels good to fit in with the crowd around us and if that group is involved in the judgment or critiques of others, it can be easy to jump in with critical comments of our own. It is hard to be the outsider, but let’s take on that challenge. Let’s stand up for positivity by being positive. When someone complains about the weather, let’s say, “Oh, I’m actually glad that we are getting some rain, my lawn sure needs it!” Let’s be the positive light and reign in our own negativity.
It may be a challenge, one that takes considerable focus and attention, to change this habit but with repeated practice it can happen and we will be extraordinarily happy that we did it. We will begin seeing the challenging world around us differently. It will appear brighter, more positive and full of potential and then, through our interactions, the reverse epidemic may just occur. Embracing the beautiful, diverse, exciting, and challenging world around us will enlighten others to do the same.
I’d like to challenge you to try it. Just start with today. Every time a negative comment is shared or one pops into your head, try flipping it. Flip it around to a positive one. Stop grimacing and smile. Don’t frown, but raise your eyebrows. It’ll make you feel different…happier…more positive! I guarantee it!
Not everyday is Halloween, so let’s remove the mask of critical negativity for those around us and be that “Teletubby” for others. Let’s be brave to be different, positive, and fun. That’s an epidemic we can all use.