Okay so, though I am not a celebrator of New Year, I have made an intention to post only uplifting, positive, compassionate and/or healing stuff in 2017. This will not always be easy, but it matters to me that we treat people and the world with kindness and if I want others to do it, let it start with me.
On New Year’s Eve, I posted that message on Facebook. I also added:
So now it’s 7.47 pm on the last day of 2016. That gives me 4 hours and 13 minutes to post negative shit. 🙂 What shall I write about?? 🙂 🙂
I got quite few suggestions of negative shit to write about. It seems sharing negative stuff is all the more enjoyable when contrasted with serious or worthy stuff. It gives us a chance to be fully whole, totally human.
I don’t think it’s wrong to write or speak negatively. A rant on Facebook might be some people’s only way of expressing deep emotion, so it’s better they rant than not. I’m not in that position, and the balance, not just on social media, but in all media seems to be towards negative. My intention is to redress the balance a bit, not to say anyone else should do what I am doing.
Right on cue on New Year’s Day, the perfect piece of uplifting, positive, compassionate stuff came my way via Google Trending. I read 7 Life Lessons from a Guy Who Can’t Move Anything but His Face and knew I had to share it. The writer, Jon Morrow, has muscular dystrophy, has had pneumonia 16 times, recovered from more than 50 broken bones, and spent years of his life in hospital. Yet, he says he lives “a life most people only dream about.”
Here’s a snippet (which I also shared on Facebook.)
…triumph over adversity isn’t about being the strongest or the smartest, the “perfect” human being who can overcome anything life throws at them. On the contrary, the greatest victories are won by the weakest people, living in the darkest times, facing monsters that make even the stoutest heroes cower and run.
When you’re done reading this post click over and read the rest of what Jon Morrow has to say. You won’t be disappointed, and will be inspired.
I’ve since posted more uplifting, positive, compassionate and/or healing (and inspiring) pieces on Facebook, both on my personal profile and on my Facebook Page. After a few days, I noticed something I had not expected.
I didn’t give much thought to how making this intention might affect me before I made it, though I didn’t expect following it to be easy. When we see injustice and suffering, there’s an instant visceral reaction to it. At times, the biggest challenge is to let that reaction come and go, and then find a way to work for positive change.
This isn’t a denial of suffering, but an embracing of its alleviation. That alleviation doesn’t come through denial of negative emotions or thoughts, but by letting those go and channelling our energy to positive action.
I think it’s important to focus on what we’d like to see in this world, rather than to rail against what’s wrong with it. For instance, I have heard that all the hatred and anger directed towards Trump may well have played a part in his rise. That makes sense to me. Years ago, while I was training to be a teacher, a tutor came to observe me give a presentation. Some boys acted up. Flustered, I tried to engage them with questions. They hadn’t been listening so didn’t know the answers and made cheeky replies – and I lost control of the group. The tutor later explained that by giving these boys so much attention I encouraged them to continue, whereas had I instead engaged a couple of quiet girls who had been listening carefully the presentation would have gone more calmly. It would have been a relief to all of us, including the boys.
I felt disappointed in myself at the time, but it was a valuable lesson for me: pay attention to the behaviour you want to see, and not to that you don’t.
I can easily see why this applies to children. What I find harder is trusting that if I focus on uplifting, healing stuff, I will take positive action to alleviate suffering when that’s required. For instance, how can I alert others to suffering if I don’t post about it?
Actually, now I think about it, it’s not that difficult. I find stories about people who are already alleviating suffering. This shows others it’s possible and encourages us to join in. For instance, instead of focusing on stories of the horrors of Aleppo, I can focus on stories where people like the White Helmets risk their lives to rescue people trapped after bombing raids. Instead of focusing on violence against different races or religions in the USA, I can focus on stories where people have overcome prejudices to reach understanding and love for those they previously feared and hated.
Besides – why do I need to alert others to suffering?
The assumption that I need to suggests I am more aware of suffering than other people, but almost everyone I know is not only aware of issues, but feels overwhelmed by them.
This feeling of overwhelm is what happens if we focus on problems – it seems as if everything is terrible and the world is going to crap. It feels hard to know what to do and that anything we do will be too little, too late. In their book Mindful Compassion, Paul Gilbert and Choden give some examples of blocks to compassion, including: we are brought up with news media that constantly focuses on death, disease, dying humiliation and shame but leaves us feeling powerless to do anything about it – so we get angry, shrug and switch off.
So constantly focusing on what’s wrong in the world doesn’t even motivate most of us to take action, and when it does, our action is often driven by fear or anger, tends to be reactive, is often chaotic and almost always exhausting. It’s no wonder so many of us burn out.
On the other hand, when we focus on solutions, we offer hope, ways forward; we say, “Maybe you and I can do this too.” The action we take feels more solid somehow, more stable, stronger.
This brings me to what surprised me this week. As I said, I had not expected to see any major change in myself. Yet somehow, focusing on finding stories that offer solutions, posting only that which is encouraging, supportive (and sometimes fun) has led to a change. I feel more confident about what I share on Facebook, and far less concerned about whether people like it or like me for sharing it.
I guess this isn’t surprising. Sharing problems might make us feel connected to others in the short term, but if we are to stay connected, we have to hang onto those problems. We also have to connect only with those who agree with us.
If we share solutions, we can connect more widely and we feel more secure. At least, that’s my experience so far with this experiment. Overall, I feel more positive in general and so I feel encouraged to keep going and see what other changes I notice. I now plan to continue throughout 2017 and will post regular updates.
If you have ever tried anything like this, I’d love to hear how you go on. Or if you’d like to join in this experiment, drop me a comment or get in touch via Facebook.