What sort of residue are you leaving on others?

by Kristin on September 1, 2010

in Love, family & community

Photo by Jack Rydquist

Are you a romantic or a realist? An optimist or a pessimist?

Most likely, you’re a bit of all of those things. And that’s good—the balance keeps us from spiraling into despair or, alternately, throwing ourselves into wildly unrealistic endeavors. My dad is an optimist, and my mom is a realist, so I have both woven into my psyche. But we each probably sense that our identity is more tied to one side of the spectrum or the other, right?

I lean toward optimism, and for the most part I think it helps me more than it hurts me. Viewing the world through slightly rose-tinted glasses helps me make the best of things. I’m up for seeing what I can make from what I’ve scrounged together in my life—like a collection of odd ingredients found in the far-reaches of the refrigerator. I’m willing to throw myself into something that might not be entirely realistic, motivated by my hope that something wonderful just might result. I know that life can surprise me, and I’m willing to trust that the surprises will lean more toward good than bad.

My attitude isn’t just about me

Lately I’ve been thinking about how our attitudes rub off on others—our kids, spouses, co-workers and community. I view the world in a certain way and I know how that feels from my perspective, but I wonder how it looks from the outside.

One of the things I don’t like about being an optimist is the tendency for positivity to come off as fake. I don’t want to be perceived as someone who isn’t willing to share struggles and call a hard thing hard. I worry that people will assume I’ve come to a rosy conclusion because I’ve failed to really think.

But maybe authenticity isn’t just about openly sharing the tough and the negative, whether it’s giving harsh feedback, spilling negative emotions or expounding on our doubts (the topic of Monday’s post). Somehow it seems like we’ve gotten to a place where to be authentic is to be a downer, and being an optimist is the equivalent of being fake.

How has that happened? And how does it affect our family, community, and culture at large?

Be counter-cultural: Build people up

My pastor has been talking lately about how counter-cultural it is, in this age of polarization and division, to encourage and build one another up. We’re so busy tearing things down in our efforts to promote our beliefs and positions. Just think about politics, and how little we know, anymore, about what a candidate or party is actually for—what they want to do. We know so much more about what they’re against, and what they want to undo. It feels like an incredibly slippery slope. In fact, it’s so slippery that I’m feeling rather pessimistic about it all! Can we change course?

If you’ve spent much time poking around Halfway to Normal, you’ve noticed that I have three categories I use to roughly sort out my posts: Culture, ideas & paradigms; Love, family & community; and Belief, doubt & hope. Not surprisingly, many of my posts could easily fit into two or even all three categories.

This is one of those posts that could go anywhere, but I decided to put it under Love, family & community. I think this is what love is, in a really practical way: Thinking about how we rub off on others, and living out our lives in a way that builds others up. Can you envision how our families and communities would be transformed, if we focused on that?

I can. And I don’t think it’s just my rose colored glasses at work.

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  • http://www.lorilyn.wordpress.com Lori-Lyn

    I can too. I think it’s why we’re here.

  • Lorna

    “I worry that people will assume I’ve come to a rosy conclusion because I’ve failed to really think.” One thing I could never assume of you is that you have failed to *think*. Your thinking is one of the things I appreciate most about you. The fact that you can think, then come out on the optimistic side is a bonus! Thanks for the building up you’ve done in my life.

  • http://www.joyeggerichs.com Joy Eggerichs

    I think we have focused on authenticity so much! That is a vital piece to transforming our families and communities. But just like you have said, “authenticity” has been associated with being honest about the hard stuff we are enduring. This is great and needed because I think a lot of us have seen people putting on “shows.”

    However, the downside is that when we get so caught up in labeling what authenticity looks like, then we automatically label something as inauthentic. And sadly that has been “optimism.”

    Authenticity IS authentic. And it will shows its true self as we get to know people. There are “downers” who are doing it for attention and not because they are really suffering and there are “positive Pollys” that are actually broken inside.

    But in the end, we are only responsible to be who we are, and if we do that…I think we will impact our communities and families for the good. We may have people doubt the genuineness of our “rose colored glasses,” but as Lincoln says, “In the end, you will get the face that you deserve.”

    When you are 90 years old…people will know if you were authentic or not.

    Loved your post–think I just regurgitated it in my own words above…so sorry for the novel! Thank you.

  • http://mywheelsareturning.com/ Gary L Howe

    What about tearing down to build them back up!

    Seriously though, I like this post. I have personal problem in that my outlook often takes the opposite of my environment. Put me in a room full of pessimists, and I’m a rainbow of sunshine. A room full of optimists, and man, I can be highly critical before I even have a chance to filter it. A solution: to zip the lips. (also difficult).

    Because I live in a very comfortable, privileged community I come across as the cranky one quite frequently. In fact, I personally feel quite the opposite, but the reflection back from others is pretty clear.

  • http://themoderngal.com The Modern Gal

    I have so many thoughts about this.

    I’ve become so frustrated with the general tone of our country’s discourse. It is SO negative, with people shouting their opinions but refusing to listen to others. I wish people were more concerned with building others up and acknowledging that we’re all different than making everyone think their opinion is the right one.

    But on the flip side, I know I spread negativety too, with how I talk about my job (which consumes so much of my life). I complain about my job — A LOT. Most people upon hearing what my job is immediately respond, ‘Wow, that’s such a cool job! You’re so lucky, I’d love to have that job!’ But the thing is, most people have a total misconception about what my job entails. And instead of sharing in their positive feelings about it, I share with them just how miserable it makes me feel and why.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    This post reminds me of a eureka moment in my early 20′s when I finally realized that I didn’t have to make everyone think and act like me. Not that I actively tried to reform anyone prior to that point, at least not too often I hope, but I did learn to accept people as they are and to appreciate where they’re coming from. It sounds uber-obvious now, but at the time and ever since I’ve found that it’s fascinating to learn how to see the world from someone else’s perspective. However, I still find myself sometimes wishing they’d see things my way… ;)

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com Meredith


    I’m reminded of a story (and I wish I could remember details, like where I read it, but I can’t) about two different writing groups, one all male, one all female. The male group criticized each other’s writing for frequently (pointing out mistakes or what they didn’t like, for example), while the female group focused on supporting each other and pointing out the good. Years later, it turned out the female group had yielded more published work than the male group, indicating that their success had more to do with positive feedback than negative feedback.

    Sometimes I think we get forget that building others up does not diminish our own accomplishments. Helping others in no way prevents us from succeeding as well.

    “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

  • http://takingtheyoke.blogspot.com Ray Hollenbach

    You pastor sounds wise, Kristin. Love, praise and encouragement are decidedly counter cultural in just about any age or place. I was reminded of the suggestions in Hebrews, chapter 10, where another pastor had the same vision: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Who wouldn’t want to become part of a community like that? Too often we predicate our “community” on agreement over political positions, ethnicity, or religious doctrine. I would much prefer to find a community of kindness, and then invite others in. Indeed, it may be how the first followers of Jesus “conquered” the world.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Lori-Lyn, thank you. I’m so glad you’re here!

    Lorna, I’m really glad that the people who know me in real life know that I like to think. :) It takes some time to see all of the different sides of someone, though. I wonder if in certain settings—maybe at work, or on line—people tend to categorize each other in more one-dimensional ways. At any rate, I’m glad you feel “built up” by our friendship. I feel the same from you.

    Joy, you’re absolutely right about authenticity as “a vital piece to transforming our families and communities.” I’m a fan of it, in terms of what it *really* means, but we have sort of narrowly defined it, haven’t we? In the end, this is exactly right: “Authenticity IS authentic. And it will show its true self as we get to know people.” The trick is to be patient, open-minded and inquisitive as we get to know people.

    Gary, you make a really good point about the way our environments impact our persona—both how we act and how we’re perceived. Kids are masters at that, filling whatever vacuum happens to present itself at home or in a classroom. Is there an opening for a resident goofball? They’re in. Is their sibling, who’s usually the model child, acting out? They’re ready to suddenly act the model child part. I guess most of us have an innate desire to create some balance in the world?

    The Modern Gal, yes! Why does there always have to be right and wrong, a winner and a loser, someone on offense and someone on defense? We’re so embedded in this way of relating to people who are different from us, that I really fear we’ll never be able to change course. In regards to your own negativity about your job, I think this might partly be related to our desire to create balance. Since people tend to think your job is so great, you balance that view with the negative sides. If you had a job that made most people feel sorry for you, you might be more likely to point out the positives. It’s a survival technique—one I can definitely relate to. (But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to be negative—it’s just one way to look at what might drive that.)

    ed, I had a realization like that, too—”to accept people as they are and to appreciate where they’re coming from.” Unfortunately, it came a bit later for me, and it was one of those lessons learned the hard way. Anyway, I’m beginning to think these “uber-obvious” lessons might be the most important ones for us to embrace and act out.

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    I should have added that while I learned that lesson, I still spend way too much time in my own little world. You’re right in pointing out that we need to embrace AND act this out. The acting out part is the killer!

    Just the other day I listened a radio show where the host and his guest talked about celebrating as a hollow, phony act for themselves. While they recognized that others enjoy celebrating, he’d rather sit home and watch HBO. I’m still trying to understand where he was coming from, though I can’t help thinking life would be better for him if he could learn to celebrate like I do… ;)

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com Kristin T.

    Meredith, so you don’t think women are simply more talented writers? JUST KIDDING! I really like how you put this: “Sometimes I think we get forget that building others up does not diminish our own accomplishments. Helping others in no way prevents us from succeeding as well.” And I’m trying to figure out where that idea—that everything is a competition, and someone else’s success takes us down a notch. Maybe it has something to do with the way school works—we’re all taking the same tests, given the same assignments, and then percentage score grades rank us, even if that isn’t the intention. It’s like running a race. You might be pleased with your time, but if someone else is faster, they bump you from first to second place.

    Ray, my pastor *is* wise. :) I’m very happy to have a church that challenges me in practical ways and gets me thinking in complex ways. You are wise, too. I couldn’t agree with this more: “Too often we predicate our “community” on agreement over political positions, ethnicity, or religious doctrine. I would much prefer to find a community of kindness, and then invite others in.” If it seems so obvious, why is it so difficult and rare?

    ed, “the acting out part is the killer,” indeed. So often things resonate and make perfect sense in our minds, but when we try to think of concrete examples we draw blanks. It really makes me think that we’ve strayed so very far from the mark.