Negativity was around us since we did not even know us what it was. Probably it had been there since the beginning of mankind. When Abel (Habeel) offered sacrifice and it was accepted, and Kane’s sacrifice was not accepted, Kane (Kabeel) decided to kill Abel. Quran says that Abel tried to stop him with reason, but Kane persisted and killed him. Later, Allah sent a crow which dug the earth to show how to bury the dead. Yes, Kane regretted his act, but it was too late. It only shows that the humans have built-in capacity for negativity and positivity, and built-in capability to differentiate between the two.
Negativity may express in several forms. Negative thoughts, negative feelings, negative emotions; negative behavior is motivated is triggered by one of these and may be taken as the end, not the means.
Negative thoughts are generally endogenous; arising for no reason apparently. Doubts about our own capability, doubts about others’ integrity and sincerity, doubts about what people say, and pessimistic thoughts like nothing will ever improve and so on. In Pakistan, we mostly think in negative terms. Probably due to our circumstances, we are suspicious and cautious all the time. We just cannot relax. Pakistanis who have immigrated and live abroad continue carrying the same negativity. The same is true about several other Asian nations. It is said that the Asians do not contribute anything to the society they are living in, in another country. (they hardly contribute in their own country as well). The Asians take all the benefits from the foreign land but return nothing. I came to know about a Pakistani living in a Scandinavian country, who had to choose between paying equivalent of 3.3 million rupees in tax or get six months imprisonment. He chose prison, saved money and purchased a property in Pakistan. It speaks amply about the expression of our negativity. Negative thoughts are recurring thoughts and are difficult to get rid of.
Negative feelings arise in response to some event; be it said or done. We feel unhappy and then keep nurturing our negative feelings. Negative feelings are not violent and flaring; these are the simmering, sizzling kind which keep burning slowly in our mind. Of course, the process affects us in psychological and physical ways. We do not associate our physical problems and psychological issues with our negativity and add worries on top of everything else. Jealousy is a classic example.
Negative emotions arise due to strong disagreement, revolt and repulsion. These may be explosive and violent. Anger is a flagship negative emotion which occasionally leads to heinous crimes like murder. Abel said to Kane “If you should raise your hand against me to kill me – I shall not raise my hand against you to kill you. Indeed, I fear Allah, Lord of the worlds. Indeed I want you to obtain [thereby] my sin and your sin so you will be among the companions of the Fire. And that is the recompense of wrongdoers. And his soul permitted to him the murder of his brother, so he killed him and became among the losers.” (AL-Quraan 5:28,29,30)
As we see, the reasoning of Abel did not appease the anger of Kane and he finally committed murder. This is how the blind intensity of negative emotions work.
Enough said about negativity. Can we erase negativity from our lives? Can we convert negativity into positivity? Is positivity the solution to handle negativity? I think the answer to these, and other such questions is NO.
If we liken negativity to darkness (which it is anyway) and positivity to Light, we can look at this scenario. When we enter a dark room and switch on lights, where does the darkness go? I think it just hides; behind the doors, under the bed, and in other nooks and corners where light does not reach. As soon as light goes away, it returns immediately. By the same analogy, when we counter negativity with positivity, we let the darkness hide here and there. Positivity is an effort and may not be sustained at all time. In those moments, negativity will come back full force.
What is a better alternative?
First, I propose to accept that negativity shall always stay with human beings. It will never be erased. It can only be managed, like a chronic disease such as high blood pressure or diabetes, which do not have permanent cure. After we accept this fact, we can move forward and see what can be done to manage it.
I have three suggestions which will help to manage negativity and keep it at bay in way that it does not become a disturbing or disabling factor.
- Gratitude – Counting our blessings is the first. It is not difficult to do, but it is generally a neglected area. We take things for granted all the time. The fact that we are normal and have all faculties of our bodies working is a huge blessing, which can only be understood in comparison to someone who has some abnormality. The ability to see versus blindness, the ability to hear and speak vs being deaf and dumb, the ability to walk and run versus a physical disability are just a few examples. That we have our relations and loved ones and near ones and our dear ones and that we have friends to share our happiness with. That we have a shoulder around where we can put our head and cry out our sorrows and problems. That we have plenty of food on our table and we can enjoy occasional meals outside. That we have a proper roof on our heads and proper toilets in our homes. That we have a steady income which is usually enough for our needs. That we can afford to wear clean clothes. That our children can have education, quality notwithstanding. That we can look forward to having an even better future. These are just a few reasons for being grateful. Our gratitude is due to Allah who is Kind and Benevolent. Our gratitude is due to people around us who give us the sense of belonging. Yes, they make us miserable at times, but that helps us to differentiate between good and bad. Gratitude is a gratifying feeling; it keeps our spirits up and counters negative feelings continually.
- Empathy – is generally defined as the ability to understand others’ point of view from their vantage point. It means that we leave our post and go to their position to see things from there. It is possible to do so, with some feeling for others and practice. Empathy is the single biggest factor to make this world a better place to live. Human beings are high energy, volatile and dangerous species. It is difficult to control their impulses. The purpose of religions, social values, manmade laws and rules is the same; to harness and control the unbridled energy of humans. Empathy teaches us how to treat others with respect, dignity and sensitivity. Empathy brings good feelings, builds our capacity to relate meaningfully, and learn to care for others. A small act of care keeps us internally happy for long time. Conversely, a small act of unkindness keeps us unhappy for long. Empathy is the key to build a pool of good relations and happy feelings. Empathy brings security and positivity and helps to manage negativity.
- Self-Development – Another important strategy to manage negativity is to keep working on self-development. One major factor for negativity is comparison with others. We compare and every single thing we find less on our side makes us unhappy and negative. If we continue to work on self-development, we get out of comparison. We realize we are moving forward and shall keep on overtaking many others. Continuous growth in our abilities, capacity and capabilities keeps us fulfilled, gratified and accomplished. These are all happy and positive factors which help to counter negativity. Self-development should be understood as a process which keeps us getting better with time. The development may take place along many dimensions. It would be personal and professional and social and intellectual; all of them together. Self-development should not be restricted to hard skills or soft skills but should be applied to life per se. Self-development is an effective strategy to keep negativity away.
I am suggesting that negativity is part of our core and shall not be erased. It can be managed however, so that it does not hurt us and others, and it does not become an obstacle in our progress.