A Confession: Looking for the Bad

“When you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”
-Pollyanna

“Hate” is a strong and powerful word, and I usually refrain from wielding it towards anything or anyone. It has become casually and commonly used, and I often hear it as part of the phrase, “I hate people.” It is a phrase I seem to hear more and more frequently, and it’s one with which I often find myself nodding in partial agreement.

I don’t really like people. Other than my few close relationships, I mostly keep my distance, which would be a shock to the social butterfly of my youth. “Why?” I hear her asking. “Why do you dislike people so much and how have you become so cynical?” Good question. It’s one I have been asking myself a lot lately. While I don’t have all the answers yet, I recently realized that somewhere along the way I have developed a habit of looking for the bad in people.

It’s hard not to be disappointed and disheartened by mankind. We constantly hear about the horrible things we do to each other and to other forms of life with blatant disregard for everything but ourselves. The dark side of humanity is always evident via news and social networks in formats that take advantage of and build on our fear. We see these things, hear about them, talk about them, and latch onto them. The bad things are endlessly tossed into our line of sight. It’s overpowering.

My disenchantment has overflowed into my more personal, intimate relationships. I have gradually become less trusting, less open, less engaged with others. When I meet people, I begin immediately evaluating their words and behavior in an attempt to glean their real agenda underneath the façade. I am quick to pass judgment with little information and automatically assume people are being disingenuous.

Ultimately, I have been looking for the bad. Many of us have grown cynical towards humanity (or lack thereof), and it has soured our personal interactions. It’s time for a change. It’s time to look for the good.

How do we change our perception? How do we begin looking for the good instead?

1) I think it starts with ourselves. Once we understand our own triggers, we can take them into consideration when we are in the throes of casting judgment on others. If we better understand what angers us, gets under our skin, or sets us off, we can learn to better manage those emotions and project them in a more positive way instead of towards an increasing sense of animosity.

2) Elie Wiesel said, “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.” Every person is unique. We are all living out our own stories. Being curious about others and their experiences allows us to humanize them in a way that can create commonality and a sense of compassion. Ask people questions and make a genuine effort to piece together a more complete picture of who they are.

3) Everyone has positive character traits. Everyone has something they are good at doing. In elementary school we sometimes sat in a circle and took turns saying something nice about our classmates. Consider the people we encounter from family members to strangers. In our interactions with them, we can think of something we like about them, something we appreciate, or something they are good at doing.

4) Most people we encounter are not going out of their way to make our lives more difficult. We are all focused mostly on ourselves, so why do we assume others are focused on us? Assume positive intent. Everyone is simply trying to make their way in the world as best as they can. This concept cured me of my road rage. We all think we are the greatest drivers and that we do no wrong. We can’t all be right. The person that cuts us off on the freeway is simply trying to get to a destination, same as us, same as everyone. It wasn’t an intentional act of meanness.

5) Every time we encounter someone in life, we have a new opportunity to learn something. We can look for those lessons, especially when we experience more challenging interactions. We can ask ourselves what we can learn from this person, from this situation? Other people often act as mirrors that show us what kind of people we are or what kind of people we want to be.

Looking at humanity as a whole, we are exposed to more examples of the dark side of our nature than the bright. We have to take it upon ourselves to seek out the good. We can find it more easily in individuals we encounter in our daily lives. The good is right in front of us every day; we just have to teach ourselves to see it.

I am striving to be less judgmental, to practice showing more love, kindness, and compassion, and to see others in a more positive light. I am looking for the good in mankind, and perhaps if everyone tries to do the same, the world will be a better place.

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11 thoughts on “A Confession: Looking for the Bad

  1. The problem with most of us is that we take for granted how wonderful the world is around us. When something bad or difficult enters our lives, it’s sometimes daunting to see past the darkness and back to the good.

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  2. Great post! Looking for the good in people is something I need to work on as well. I really liked what you said about starting with ourselves first. I’ll often notice that I tend to think worse of people when I’m in a crappy mood or feeling bad about myself. But when I’m happy other people seem to be a lot nicer.

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  3. Unfortunately, cynicism is a byproduct of getting older. You see more examples of people doing ugly things, and you lose faith in them. Good on you for fighting that. You’re right; if we could all do that, things would be much better for everyone, indeed.

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    • I have found the opposite to be the case for me. As I have gotten older, and experienced the stories of diverse people, I find that most people have a reason for acting the way they do and I try my best to understand that and not judge their actions. It’s hard sometimes. But I am trying.

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      • I think you can get there. You just have to recognize when you are looking for the negative, or noticing the negative, and try to find a positive instead – or at least try to understand why the person is acting the way they are.

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    • I think that’s part of it for sure. More years = more exposure to the darker side of people and cynicism starts to manifest and grow. Plus, the bad things always seem to stand out more and have a stronger effect on us. Resilience is a muscle I need to work on strengthening.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post. I wish we could all look at the good in others. I recall a story my dad used to tell about the town drunk, I think. (Yes, I’m from a small town.) Everyone would say only bad things about him. Then, one day, someone was putting him down to one of the older women in the town. Her response was, “Yes, but don’t he whistle pretty.” She found that one thing he was good at and focused on that. I think that story has really affected the way I have looked at people all of my life.

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