Cynicism, criticism and negativity—it seems to me that these are the predominant attitudes I’ve encountered in groups of adults recently. Even when these are not directed toward me, the aura of these can feel like a heavy coat on a hot day. The sad part of these attitudes is that they are contagious—one cynic in a group suddenly becomes a handful. One critical voice can suddenly be a dam breaking forth, causing every other voice in the group to take up the banner of criticalness.
When did it get to be so popular to be a naysayer? Do folks think it is a sign of maturity to point out every possible flaw in people, plans or organizations? This morning I was reading in the book of Numbers, about how the Israelites complained that the only food they had to eat was the manna that God gave them daily. All they had to do was go outside and gather it up off the ground. It was pure gift to them, a miraculous food supply! And yet, they whined and complained to Moses because it wasn’t what they wanted to eat.
It seems to me that gratitude, encouragement and hope are absent when cynicism, criticism and negativity are present. It’s hard to be grateful for the opportunities and people around us when we are making fun of them or criticizing them.
As we increasingly focus on the negative, it gets harder and harder to see the positive. Douglas V. Steere, Quaker author and professor, says we become what we do. So we can’t make a habit of cynicism without becoming cynics. We can’t regularly criticize without become critical people. Consistent negativity makes us into bitter people.
As a frazzled young mother, trying hard to meet the insurmountable expectations I felt I had to meet, I remember three older women in my church who embodied for me what I wanted to be as I aged. They were positive, encouraging and magnanimous. They smiled a lot. They never had the attitude that they had “done their time” but continued to show up, cheering our children on, and interacting with younger folks at church. To me, they were ageless. And did I mention they smiled a lot?
Now that I am the one with the gray hair and grown children, I realize that I have a choice to make. I can choose to be grateful, cheerful and hopeful or I can criticize, nitpick and complain. I can encourage others or I can tear down what others are trying to build. Knowing that my individual choices in every circumstance become who I am, I pray that I will choose what is hopeful and life-giving.