It is at times like these that I wish I had a book or movie review blog, or a recipe blog (ha! good one, Amy), or maybe even a tech blog. Then I could write up a topical essay instead of writing about what I’m about to write about. I could satisfy my current introverted yearnings and hide behind the text instead of infusing myself throughout the text. But, into the fray I go!
I want to talk about negativity, and more specifically, about how easily it spreads. Sometimes it feels like we are being hit by a constant bombardment of negativity: complaints, mean comments, subtle put-downs, defensiveness, bare naked insecurity, and reams upon reams of advice (the dreaded “shoulds”). Between our in-person social interactions and the pervasiveness of the internet, it can be hard to escape. All of this negativity becomes like white noise, this constant presence that we sometimes don’t even notice.
One problem with this negativity, aside from the obvious, is how easily it can rub off on us. Negativity is contagious. So when I’m spending time reading updates from writers who are, in various ways, freaking out about their writing in public, I will eventually start freaking out about my own writing without necessarily even realizing why. When I’m reading all this writing advice that appears to lay down rules from Heaven, even if I keep a skeptical mind, I will eventually start second-guessing my own process. If I hear enough complaints about Google+ and why would any normal person choose to use it instead of Facebook (and it’s always instead of, I notice), then I begin to worry about the long-term viability of Google+, even though I’m enjoying it a lot right now.
I get the impression that some people are able to shield themselves from this effect without much thought, but for the rest of us, it takes more care. Sometimes I have to take internet breaks. Right now I severely limit the amount of writing advice I read, especially on blogs, because I find that the advice hurts as often as it helps. I also try to avoid other writers’ word count posts. I make a mental note of the people within my acquaintance who are likely to let loose with the verbal zingers. I try to distance myself (and don’t we all have experience with that, given the amount of bad news we’re exposed to from the media alone?)
It’s a tricky line to walk. On the one hand, everyone needs to complain sometimes. And I certainly want to be supportive to my friends and colleagues. But on the other hand, if my work and/or mood is being materially affected, then something has gone wrong. Perhaps this is a side effect of living in the Information Age, when we are blasted by stronger streams of sharing than was previously possible.
But I confess that when I’m deciding what to share, I try (and granted, sometimes fail) to take this into account. It’s not that we should shy away from discussing the difficult things. Indeed, when a real discussion is taking place, I often feel more connected and less negative. Tackling difficult topics can educate, instigate change, and bring people closer together. Plus I truly believe it is rewarding to pursue authenticity and honesty when possible. But I also think it’s important to ask ourselves how we are affecting others. And if we are sharing with a large stream of people (as we so often do with social media), I think some relevant questions to ask are these: how am I contributing to these people’s lives by what I’m about to say? Am I helping to lift people up or accidentally bringing them down? Am I blasting out a burst of negativity to no purpose? It’s not that we need to represent ourselves as living under a permanent rainbow. But neither do we want to end up sharing life under a perpetual rain cloud.
As you can tell, I’m still grappling with these questions. So tell me, what do you think? How do you protect yourself from other people’s negativity? How do you decide what to share? Where is the line between being honest and spreading negativity?