I don't know about you, but I seem to notice that we have more and more people signing up for the Ain't It Awful Club. I'm sure you know some members. Who knows, perhaps you have a membership of your own.
Candidly, I have been known to visit the club myself. After all, in today's world, we certainly have plenty to complain about, ranging from economic stress and recession, to health care strife and politics reduced to playground name calling.
What strikes me most about the Ain't It Awful Club is the skillful banter between members as they engage in one-downsmanship. In case this sounds a bit removed from anything you have experienced, may I suggest that you can find a local chapter in your office cafeteria, the local Starbucks, or the corner bar.
It used to be that members only met after work at a neighborhood pub. However things seem to have deteriorated to the extent that members need to meet more frequently. A typical conversation--aka moan and groan session--starts off with a member complaining about some circumstance, It could be something at work, the politics at the neighborhood school, greedy bankers, or politics in general. No sooner has the initial complaint been registered, the n the next member rejoins with something like, "You think that's bad? Wait until you hear this!"
And downward goes the spiral.
Of course, the club now has tiered membership. Gone are the days of the merely local chapter holding court with the turf all to itself. The local bar or coffee klatch now must compete with professional complainers--the radio and TV talk shows, political commentators, bloggers and, of course, our elected representatives.
So what's going on? How is it that we have become a nation besotted with criticism and complaint over reasoned argument and positive action? How is it that we have come to accept argumentative name calling as a worthy substitute for meaningful dialogue?
Could it be that we have learned to substitute criticism and complaint for meaningful action? Somehow, tossing around hateful rhetoric has become an apparently acceptable substitute for real engagement.
If you're not sure what I mean, just browse around the pages of the HuffPost. You will find an interesting blend of thoughtful posts (usually viewed by a handful of readers with but a few comments) and hackles raising posts targeting one or more groups (often viewed by thousands upon thousands, accompanied by hundreds if not thousands of comments).
Even the comments themselves can be an interesting blend of dialogue and diatribe. Some readers seem to surf for opportunities to show off their ability to be negative in sometimes clever language.
What's up with this apparent rising tide of negativity and personal attack?
And why do so many seem to find the attack mentality not only acceptable but attractive?
I guess I'm really writing this post to myself. As much as I find all this negativity-laced criticism to be somewhere between offensive and ineffective, I can also see this kind of mindset increasingly present in my own attitudes.
I do find it pretty easy to join in one of those Ain't It Awful Club conversations, adding even more fuel to the political complaints about the brain-dead policies and approaches of any number of politicians.
Perhaps adding vitriol to any topic somehow is supposed to add veracity to the argument. Or perhaps vitriolic attacks are meant to indicate some kind of actual engagement.
I don't care whether you think Sarah Palin is evil-on-a-broom or if you think President Obama is the anti-Christ. Both are human beings with some combination of political ambitions and social good mixed in with agendas they are trying to pursue.
Disagreeing with their politics or approaches is not only understandable but desirable if we are to continue building something of substance and promise as a society. However, when we add negativity to something we perceive as negative, then we wind up sliding down an impossibly slippery slope.
Could we find a way to bring caring and civility into our daily interactions, be they with the airline clerk who had nothing to do with your flight being delayed or with the person on the other side of the health care debate?
What might happen if we actually took a few minutes to try and understand what it must be like to be the person on the other side of our criticism? What is it that they care about? And why?
I suspect we might find a whole lot more humanness underneath many positions. And, I'm pretty sure we might meet more than a few self-serving, greedy, and uncaring individuals in the process.
Could we start a different kind of Tea Party? How about one where we invite the other to join us for tea, rather than seeking to lynch them literally or figuratively?
As Abraham Lincoln once said, "I do not like that man. I must get to know him better." He also said, "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"
What would be wrong with inviting a few people over to tea and learning a bit more about who they really are, rather than the negative characterizations we hold of them in our minds?
What do you think? Could you imagine holding onto your criticisms and negative thoughts about another long enough to get to know them better? I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
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