I have a bad attitude about bad attitudes. Not just the having-a-rough-day type of attitude, because everyone has one of those every now and then. I’m talking about the permanent we’re-no-good-at-that, this-will-never-work, what’s-in-it-for-me, none-of-your-business, it’s-your -fault, or don’t-ask-me-again attitudes.
And wherever we find it—at work, at home, or in our community—it’s like a deadly disease, infecting others and sucking the life out of hopes, dreams, and plans.
Just ask child development professionals. They know parents who constantly criticize, compare, and ridicule end up with children who are unhappy, unfulfilled, unconfident, and unlikely to succeed.
So what about negative attitudes in our bigger family, in our community? I’m talking specifically about Peoria and the people who call it home. It seems like cities our size often have attitude problems, but is ours worse than most? From the local media to the local bar, we constantly hear Peorians putting down their hometown.
Those of us who have lived elsewhere know Peoria is a great place to live. From no-hassle commutes to a wealth of culture and arts to world-class health care to acres of beautiful parks, Peoria has more to offer than most cities two or three times its size. Visitors from around the world are outspoken in their praise of Peoria and its people. So why don’t we see what outsiders see? And more importantly, why is the negativity so rampant?
It might be our proximity to Chicago that has led to Peoria’s inferiority complex. It might be residue from our city’s economic decline in the early 1980s. It could be a clash between our blue-collar heritage and our technological future. Maybe some people think making fun of our city and its leaders is the only way positive change will happen. Or maybe, just maybe, Peorians’ negative talk about their city is all in good fun. In other words, making fun of Peoria is as much of a tradition as a chilidog at Emo’s on the first day of Spring.
Whatever the reason, this self-contempt is not doing any good for morale or the prospects of a positive future. Not only is it picked up by our kids, it sends bad vibes to the outside world.
I’m not implying, "Peoria, love it or leave it." I would just like to remind those who’ve made Peoria-bashing a habit—especially if you manage people or are in the media or public eye—that there’s a fine line between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. And we all have to pay the consequences. All I’m really trying to say is persistent negativity in the community or in the workplace has to be addressed. It is a cancer wherever it occurs, characterized by increased complaining, more and more time spent on excuses why things can’t get done, and a self-fulfilling prophecy that things will never get better. Misery loves company, and even the most positive people can be sucked in and dragged down by negative energy.
Lois Wolfe-Morgan, author of The Negativity Trap, has some suggestions: change the way you respond to negative people. Don’t affirm them. Reframe and probe for the positive. Complain only to people who can help you do something about it. Make a commitment to manage negativity in your relationships. She calls negative people "Negatoids" and says you can easily spot them because their humor is always barbed and their response to new undertakings is "Why bother? I know it’s not going to work."
We can’t ignore negativity and hope it will go away. We need to acknowledge negative feelings, while looking for root causes and helping people get involved in finding solutions.
Am I a Pollyanna? I don’t think so. Those who know me might wish I’d be more positive myself. It never hurts for us all to think more deeply about what we do and why we do it, and then work to improve. IBI