Diary of A Layman #24 (Fall): The Chocolate Cake of Negativity

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We are living through some pretty dark times. The economy continues to be horrendous with the middle class going through the toughest challenges it’s ever had to face. To make matters worse, natural disasters are becoming more powerful and frequent than ever before, the uprisings in the Middle East are bringing unprecedented instability to the region, and if these “end of days” scenarios weren’t enough, the Maya, Nostradamus, and others all actually predicted the end of the world in 2012. It’s not like this is anything you haven’t heard on the media or from others dozens of times before. The funny thing? None of it’s true. Lately, we’ve been hearing and accepting dozens of statistics like these without question. It’s a sinfully delicious dessert the entire world seems to be stuffing themselves with: the chocolate cake of negativity.

Whenever I get an email or become involved in a conversation focusing on an upcoming doomsday scenario or general negativity, I do my best to steer it in a positive direction. This does not come easy for me. Like a lot of people, I love to gorge myself on the delectable chocolatey goodness of doom-n-gloom sprinkled with some powdered puffery about how hard we have it. When it comes to negativity, it’s like I’m overweight and desperately trying to get healthy, but I’m always being tempted with chocolate cake, which I know tastes delicious but makes me feel like crap after indulging. So, I tell whoever is serving the slice about the benefits of not eating it, even though, secretly, I want to devour the whole damn thing!

Since those serving said cake are usually addicted to it themselves, advising them not to eat it is not unlike advising a crackhead not to do drugs. They will either ignore you, become defensive, attack you verbally, or even, god-forbid, de-friend you on Facebook. But why? Why is having such a negative outlook on the world so delectable?  The reason is because the worse off the world is, the less of a loser you seem to be for having the life you do. If the whole world is in trouble, you have an excuse for not working harder at reaching your dreams. After all, if the economy sucks, America is doomed, or the world is at an end, why bother?

These days, “the economy” has become a negative term. Why haven’t you gotten a job, sold your home, gone back to school, taken a vacation, or put more into savings? Simple: the economy. That’s all you have to say. No qualifier necessary. There is no doubt that money isn’t exchanging hands anywhere near the level it was back in the mid 2000s, but considering the fallout from those years, all that confidence was never actually based on anything real. Similarly, our negativity isn’t really based on anything real either. I mean, did an asteroid destroy half of the world’s livable habitats? Did aliens enslave us and force us to toil under their commands? Did a new ice age prevent us from going outdoors? No, all that has changed is our mindset.

We are finally beginning to realize that our happiness should depend less on what have, and more upon what we are. In other words, it’s become more difficult to continually buy your way to quick-fixes of happiness. People are realizing that the “keeping up with the Jonses” mentality of the past seventy years doesn’t serve us anymore. We are entering a paradigm shift, one where true success will be measured by how big your were able to grow yourself, not your bank account. Of course, these are not mutually exclusive. Often times, growing yourself will grow your bank account.  The difference is that you’ll recognize that your fulfillment comes more from the former, rather than the latter. Wealth should be a result of fulfillment, not the other way around.

But surely these are some of the toughest times the world has ever faced! Well, except for those who had to live through WWI, the Great Depression and WWII, and that was just a couple generations ago. Head on back to the Bubonic Plague, and hell, that killed off about half of Europe’s population! Those were some tough times. The times today? Kind of on par with the 1970s oil crisis, and actually, even that may have been worse. So why do the times today seem so bad? Because we’re in it, and with all the sources of information we have coming at us these days, it just seems like the whole world is going to hell. Most news reporting is negative. Why? Because it’s easier to sell the chocolate cake of negativity than the healthful salad of positivity. And no longer do we just get the news in the morning drive or during dinner time—we get it all day long! We are practically swimming in chocolate negativity! And the more you eat, the more you need.

There is no doubt that there is major change occurring today. There is always change, and with all the people in the world and sources of news we have, it seems like there is much more change now than anytime in history. Even if it were true, it’s up to us to decide if that change is good or bad, and if we decide it’s bad, than it’s up to us to do something about it. Overall, there is no such thing as a negative situation. That’s right. No such thing. Some situations give us immediate pleasure, and we consider those good. But others require us to work and grow and change and while they might not be immediately gratifying, they are considerably more pleasurable than the instant gratification and usually, more permanent.

Being a model who accidentally walks into a propeller blade slicing off a hand and gashing her face, yeah, definitely seems like a negative situation. But I believe everything happens for a reason, and for a situation that challenging to have occurred, that model must’ve been very far away from her true path. So far away that if she’d continued on it, she would’ve surely wound up dead from drugs, anorexia, suicide, or whatever. Who walks into a propeller and lives? Certainly not the bald guy from Raiders of the Lost Ark! So this model is tougher than that! There must be a reason she survived. She has a choice now—wallow in self-pity or use this experience to grow—tremendously. I guarantee you that if she chooses the latter option her life will be much more fulfilling than if she’d never had this devastating accident. I’m sure there’ll be a Lifetime movie about it soon…assuming she takes the high road.

Right now, we are in the darkest days of the year. It’s a time when we have all these holidays to remind us to have hope. That it only takes a little light to brighten up a dark room. We light up homes and trees and light candles and their glow seems even more beautiful in the dark, just as our hopeful efforts seem more beautiful when surrounded by nothing but gloomy darkness. During the holidays, we are reminded of the gift of sharing. That giving of ourselves feels pretty good, even when it seems as though we don’t have much to give. When you give of yourself, you leave room for something else to take its place, and your mindset decides whether it should be replaced with something positive or negative. (Just as I was writing this sentence, I received a call from the photography company that did my wedding pictures, thanking me for the nice thank-you letter I sent in and rewarding me with an extra $150 in retouching and printing credits for my efforts. Kind of a confirmation methinks!)

Another theme of the holiday season comes from Chanukah. The story about how one little drop of oil lasted for eight days has a spiritual message to it. How do you get oil? You add intense pressure to an olive. When we experience intense pressures in life, often the purpose is to unleash our hidden strengths. If we were to have everything handed to us, should an actual challenge come along, we would not have developed the means to defeat it, but thanks to a life of pressures and subsequent growth—the oil that fuels our soul is able to handle the task, and grow even further from the challenge. Just remember that whatever hardships you are experiencing in your life, when you add tremendous pressure to a lump of coal you get a diamond.

Instead of being negative, the pressures that we, and our world as a whole are facing today are preparing us to become diamonds. What makes it seem so negative though is that we don’t have a common vision of who we should be. I recently received an email featuring a quote from 19th-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”  Not only do I think that’s true of us as individuals, but also for us as a global community. The world is changing. What do we want it to be? By focusing on all these negative scenarios, we are quite possibly creating exactly what we don’t want. Instead, even though it tastes like vegetables, redirect every negative comment towards a positive outlook. This doesn’t mean that you should sugarcoat bad situations or ignore hardships but focus on how the challenge can lead to a stronger future.

Is the economy collapsing so that we might become poor and miserable, or is it being renovated so that we might have a system that serves more people—one where we can all experience wealth and prosperity? Is the unrest in the Middle East more of the same that will surely result in a growing radical Fundamentalist movement bent on destroying us, or will it lead to fairer democracies where people are no longer controlled by dictators? Is global climate change occurring so that we can suffer and starve, or is it inspiring us to rely less on fossil fuels and more on renewable and cleaner sources of energy? Imagine if the media put these positive and encouraging spins on things instead of the fear-mongering tactics they currently employ. Can we be drawn towards a positive vision instead of shoved away from a negative one? Definitely. The world is always changing. Despite what the media would have us believe, we are not currently experiencing the worst of anything. Even if we were, the world is not in any danger of ending. Only our inefficient and unfulfilled lifestyles are.

As I wrote in the summer 2011 Diary of a Layman column, the Mayan calendar doesn’t end on December 21, 2012. The calendar is cyclical and reaches a milestone on that day. This milestone does not predict the end of the world, but relates to a period where we will shed our old skin that no longer serves us, enabling us to more efficiently handle our new terrain. Will this take hard work and growing pains? Sure. But if your muscles were sentient, imagine them dreading the Great Pump—a day when they are pushed to their limits at the gym, not realizing that they will become bigger for their efforts. All of us are like muscles, and after years of atrophying, it’s time to get pumped.

As for Nostradamus, despite being credited with tons of 2012 prophecies, none of his quatrains reference the year at all. Recently, an illustrated book has been made public that may or may not have been illustrating some of his prophesies, which may or may not be tied into astrological positions tied with 2012. Even if they were, these prophesies, much like the Mayan ones, seem to be relating to a time of great change, one where we will have the power to write our own future, not a time of doom and end days.

I recently saw a film about the messages of Joseph Campbell called Finding Joe. One of the themes of the movie is that “we become the hero of our own life when we get tired of being the victim of it.” It’s easy to look at all that’s wrong with the world and your life and point the blame on how hard it’s been for you. Surely, it has been. But focusing on the negatives won’t make it any better. Challenges will occur in life, but you can choose to grow from them or let them stop you.

Ultimately, we are only responsible for our own actions. And those we take that break through our old habits are made doubly powerful. As I mentioned, my habits veer towards the negative.  As a thinker, I often find myself imagining the worst case scenario so that I might be able to overcome it should it occur, not realizing that I may be creating that unwanted outcome by my very thoughts and emotional connection. My blood type is B Positive, which I think is meant to serve as a constant reminder.  The Torah portion I was born to is about the twelve spies sent in to scout out the land that would become Israel, to see if the Israelites could defeat the people already living there. Ten of the twelve came back with a very negative view—saying that it was impossible. Only two believed that they could do it. In many ways, I think this story relates to my personal challenges in trying to be positive, but also the challenges we all face in what often feels like an increasingly gloomy world.

But just remember, there is no negative situation, just negative responses. Events can either cause us to be immediately happy, or have the potential to help us feel fulfilled after growing ourselves past a challenge we thought we couldn’t overcome. But of course, there is that temptation of eating the chocolate cake. And even though eating it will taste good, it will only give you an immediate high while making you sleepy, slow, sluggish, and heavier in the long run. These qualities make it much harder for an individual, let alone a society, to rise up to face the challenges at hand. So don’t eat it! Just say no to the chocolate cake of negativity! The treats that await you will be much more fulfilling if you do.

May your inner spark grow to light your way,
Marc

 

 

 

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The Layman posted at 2011-12-21 Category: Diary of a Layman

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