QUIT: Trying to “Save” People Who Prefer to Remain Miserable
[Part of my mission to “live deliberately” involves ruthlessly cutting out anything that saps my time, energy or money to no good end. I’m calling these things my “Quits,” and this is one of the many items that have found themselves on my Quits List.]
Lately, my eye has started twitching again.
In fact, as I write this, it’s going on one hell of a twitchy bender (probably because I’m thinking about this topic). It’s very good at letting me know when I’ve let situations get out of hand.
This lovely spasm hasn’t returned for the same reasons it did before. This time, it’s thanks to my office—specifically, the negative vibes that funk up the atmosphere of my office, and my herculean efforts to dispel them, which only result in my feeling more negative.
Do you remember in Ghostbusters 2 when they realize the goo they’re studying feeds off the energy of whatever it’s around? (Specifically, I’m thinking of the scene where they make a toaster dance by playing “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher”. Because that is easily the best scene in the movie, in my opinion.)
Well, I am like that goo. I’m super-sensitive to the moods of the people around me. If I try engaging with a toxic mood—even with the best of intentions—I usually wind up absorbing it. And lately, I’m beginning to realize that, as much as I want to try to “help” Eeyores and Sludgers and grumps, sometimes it’s best to put my shields up and move on. Sometimes, as in the case of certain coworkers, I need to learn to Live and Let Live As Grumpily As They Please.
A Girl Can Only Do So Much
I can’t help it; any time I’m faced with a crap attitude, my adrenaline starts pumping. I’m a bloodhound for statements that reek of The Way Things Are. And whenever I pick up on the scent of one, my first instinct is to strike—to say or do something that will counteract it, will prove it wrong, will make it look ridiculous.
Not in a pushy, “Have you found Jesus?” pamphleteer sort of way, but just to inject a little optimism to disperse the bad vibes, to nudgingly imply or demonstrate that there might be another way of looking at things.
I’ll admit, sometimes I go beyond nudging. Sometimes (Cordelian honesty) I find myself seized by a perverse, almost combative Pollyanna personality when a shitty attitude really frustrates me. Sometimes I just want to annoy the hell out of it, although I’m getting better at checking that impulse. For the most part, I just try my best to demonstrate—by my words, by my actions, by my own way of going about life—that shitty attitudes are completely worthless and counterproductive.
I try to laugh about the silly annoyances that make other people bemoan the way the world is against them. (The copier has jammed. You have not just lost your entire family Job-style.)
I try to take the inadvertent hassles that come with working with other people in stride. (No, Secretary A never does answer her phone. That does not mean she’s a freeloader or that you are a saint because you have less work to do and answer your phone before the first ring ends.)
I try to never sigh, or mutter under my breath, or remark on the way things “always” or “never” happen a certain (inevitably unfair) way. (It’s 4:59 and again someone has handed you a last-minute fax to send? Welcome to the way the office has always worked. Get over it or start scanning the classifieds.)
But there’s only so much you can do to thwart attitudes that are several decades ingrained. Some people don’t want to be un-miserable. Some people find purpose in imagining themselves the martyr. Some people get off on judging others, and blaming others, and then muttering about the way no one notices their efforts. Some people have built up such a mental wall of anger and disgruntlement and pessimism that any attempt to point out that life doesn’t entirely suck falls on ears that have willingly been made deaf.
So be it. You can’t save ’em all.
Put On Your Hazmat Suit; Get The Hell Out of Dodge
I don’t like to be making this Quit. It seems anti-Cordelian. But sometimes you can’t help everyone. And wasting your energy trying to will only bring you down, too.
Even Anne Shirley herself (Cordelia Numero Uno) couldn’t reach everybody. Book after book, she skips through people’s lives and makes even the grumpiest of grumps softer, kinder, and more optimistic simply by being her own infectiously-in-love-with-life self. But still, in every book, there are always 2 or 3 people whose storm-clouded shells even the Anneish philosophy can’t penetrate.
There’s the aunt who spends her niece’s entire wedding weekend foreboding things like “I only hope the pianist doesn’t drop dead in the middle of the wedding march like at Eliza Wood’s wedding.” There’s the bitter, selfish old widow whose poor daughter has given up her whole life to take care of her, yet who still insists on moaning about how “No one will miss me when I’m gone” and “Don’t mind me; I can just sit in this chill and catch pneumonia, it’s no matter.” There’s the pinch-faced old cousin who comes to supper and responds to every bit of local good news (weddings, births, travels) with premonitions of such doom and gloom, such death and diphtheria, that eventually everyone stops attempting to make conversation with her at all.
Anne remains her Anneish self in spite of these grumps, being cheery and optimistic because that’s just the way she is, but ultimately she knows better than to waste her breathe on trying to “rescue” them. I’m sure she’s sad about that, but she’s also wise enough to realize that if someone’s intent on living under a cloud, that’s where they’re going to live. “It takes all sorts to make a world,” and all that.
Which is the way I need to start approaching things with people who’ve proven they prefer to stay cloud-darkened. I’m done actively keeping my radar out for their every crap attitude so I can try to mend it or save them from it. Because all that does is turn me into the Ghostbusters goo, waiting to pounce on and absorb any bad energy that happens my way rather than actively going about living my own awesome life. And there are plenty more people out there who do want to be happier; I should be focusing my energies on them.
When someone has a meltdown because the copier is broken again, I will turn around and wordlessly leave the copy room until the fumes have lifted.
When someone gets into a huff about how no one in the office is doing their job, I will serenely continue grooving along with my Pandora radio, enjoying as much as I can a job I don’t like either because hell, I’m here, so why be any more miserable about it than I need to be?
When someone makes the millionth complaint about circumstances they can change (or circumstances they can’t, for that matter), I will exercise my own selective deafness and continue to design my amazing life and amazing self as amazingly as I can.
And I won’t care whether they notice or not.
Strike that. I will still care. I can’t help it. But I will stop letting it get to me.
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