Sunday afternoon. It hasn’t stopped raining all day.
I decide to go for a swim. The pool is only about a mile away, but I need to call a Lyft.
Stephen is my driver.
Stephen turns out to be the most positive person I’ve ever met.
The first thing I notice is the colourful stickies plastered all over the dashboard. There’s one stuck to the steering wheel with random numbers. There’s another that says “Happiness + Gratitude”. There’s another with dozens of ‘roles’, like son, husband, citizen. There’s another with sort of leadership principles. You get the idea.
I’m a bit taken a back. Isn’t this sort of personal development stuff best kept private? What’s he selling?
We start chatting, and he starts reframing everything I say into a positive.
I ask him how his day has been.
“Incredible. It’s been a truly great day.”
Incredible? I wonder. I look out my window. It’s bucketing rain. It’s a prototypical gloomy sunday afternoon. How could this possibly be incredible?
But Stephen seems to think it’s been an incredible day. He’s smiling to himself.
“Have you been busy?” I ask.
“Busy? Not busy, productive.” he replies.
Productive? I start to think about the word ‘busy’. Is it really that negative? Maybe it is.
It’s a short drive, but I need to know more.
I compliment the positive paraphernalia and he immediately starts to tell me about his philosophy. “We only have one minute, so I’ll be quick. First, I decide to be positive. I make the decision.”
“How?” I wonder our loud. “Do you think of…”
He cuts me off. “You’re thinking too much already. You just do it. I used to be like you, always thinking. You just need to be positive.”
He said he used to swayed by things people said to him, or bad luck, or bad weather. But he started to be more careful with the words he used.
He believes that the words we use impact our thoughts and feelings. Our thoughts naturally seep into our speech, and vice versa.
So, his prescription was cut out all that negative self-talk and it’ll change the way you think and feel.
When I talk to someone like this, I really have to control myself. Everything in my being wants to take a contratian view and needle them into making a mistake or contradicting themself. I ask things like “but you must have a bad day”, or “don’t you feel good to rant about a bad day sometimes?”.
I have an urge to cut them down, to grab onto them and shake them. To make them see the world through my eyes.
I’ve learnt that’s a terrible approach for a number of reasons. Stephen’s view of life seemed to be giving him what he wanted, so why hold it up to the light like a science experiment? Who is to say his approach is better or worse?
If the Dalai Lama was riding in the back, listening in on our conversation, he’d probably tell me to shut up and listen.
Listening without judgement is tough. I’m working on it.
We arrive at the pool. He tells me to practice thinking (and speaking) more positively. “When something goes wrong, don’t respond with negative thoughts and words”
I thank him and I rush through the rain to the entrance. I grab the door handle and yank it open.