Last night, a friend of mine called with what I thought was a great idea: since it is supposed to be a complete rain-out tonight (Halloween), why not offer some trick-or-treating the next night, when the weather is predicted to be better? I am fairly “plugged in” to my community, since I write a local blog and am our subdivision’s Neighborhood Watch Committee Chair. My friend and I agreed that I would be the one to throw the idea out to our neighbors via our Yahoo group and Nextdoor.
Apparently, my friend and I had entirely different expectations when it came to our neighbors’ responses. Having been on committees and as the primary author of our community blog, I have come to learn that people can be mean for no apparent reason. I could post “Have a great day!” and someone would have something nasty to say about it. I have also found that writing for a larger audience, like here on ventwing.com, brings actually less negativity than posting on a local level. I’d like to think the people on my street would be kinder than the general public, but my experience tells me that my neighbors seem to have less motivation to hold their tongues.
When the first few comments came in, they were all positive or at the very least, neutral. There were a few, “What a great idea!”s and some, “Sounds good if the rain really doesn’t let up,”s. Within just a few minutes, however, the first negative feedback arrived. The comment was something along the lines of, “I remember trick-or-treating in the snow when I was a kid. Quit being such a diva and let your kids do their thing on the actual night of Halloween. Rain won’t kill you.” A few other commenters agreed with this perspective.
Soon after the first negative comment posted, my phone rang. It was my friend who had the original idea. She was upset. “What is WRONG with people?” she asked emotionally. “It’s just an IDEA that is more for the benefit of the PARENTS than the KIDS!” We talked for a while about perspective and that some people are just going to be mean. She concluded that she’ll “never get used to that,” and we hung up.
I wish I could say that I wasn’t at all affected by the negative comments. Sure, the first one stung a little, even though the whole issue had nothing to do with me personally. I honestly don’t care whether people hand out candy tomorrow night when it’s clear or not. What bothered me was that the commenter had thrown out negativity to something that was supposed to be helpful, when she could have said nothing at all.
Why do people do this? There’s really no one answer, or even a simple one. There’s a myriad of possibilities that could have pushed my neighbor to be catty. She may have had a bad day. She may have honestly perceived the idea as ridiculous (and it is her right to say so). She might have been raised in a home where communication had no filter. She may have been trying to assert control in that situation because she feels she has none in other instances. She may not have fully understood the intent of the idea. There’s even a slim chance that she was purposely trying to be mean because she’s generally a negative or hateful person.
The “whys” aren’t really the problem here, though. It doesn’t matter why she said what she did. What mattered to me was the reactions that my friend and I had to the commenter’s post. My friend was nowhere near hysterical, but she was fairly upset. She whole-heartedly took the comment personally, as I briefly did. The fact is that every communication between two people has two parts: each person’s contributions and reactions. Fortunately, we have a choice as to how to react to things people say and do through our perceptions of the situation. The optical illusion above presents two different perspectives, but life situations can present many to choose from.
While my friend perceived the comment as a personal attack on her and her idea (which was never actually presented to the community as her idea per her request), I was able to quickly move past that perception and I chose to look at it with apathy instead. The only reason I was able to do so was because I have had a lot of practice in the last year and a half since I have become more visible in the community. At first, every criticism (even the constructive kind), negative comment or snarky remark would have me reassessing my choice to be involved at all. I suppose I had to “grow a thick skin,” but was only able to do so by learning to choose a different perspective, which allowed me to experience a different feeling or emotion.
This choice is available to everyone, but many people just aren’t aware of that fact. We tend to operate on auto-pilot on a day-to-day basis, and so what we do is what we always do. We don’t realize just how much power and control we have over our own emotions. Instead, we try to change others, which is impossible. Sure, we can influence another person, but any changes he/she makes is up to him/her.
Next time you find yourself upset about something that someone else had done or said, try to step back from it. Ask yourself if it is really something that you want to devote your precious time and energy to. Is it really personal or are you just perceiving it that way? Can you look at it in a different way that will change your feelings to something neutral or positive? Are you trying to change someone else? The answers to these questions can help you shift your perspective from a hurt, victim-like view to a more empowered, assertive one. This ability has always been there. And now that you know about it, it is up to you to choose to use it!