In a previous blog, I wrote about the positive effect that extending a small courtesy or accommodation to one’s customers can have in any business, noting how a woman attendant at a gas station had made my day by allowing me inside its convenience store before opening time to brew a cup of tea. But the principle of “spreading good vibes” is also one that can work in reverse.
My first ‘epiphany’ in this regard was one that occurred years ago, back when I was running the now-defunct New Organics Company. At the time, my chief operating officer was a guy named Mike Rubic, who after repeatedly being on the receiving end of my exasperation with problems I had inherited there, told me, “Anthony, when you get on my case for the operating numbers, I get on my wife’s case for the family finances and she kicks the dog.” The remark was one that has stayed with me in all of my subsequent dealings, making me realize that there’s an opposite pole to the positivity generated by little acts of kindness and good will, a form of pure negative energy that can have a pernicious ‘ripple effect’ on everyone it touches.
I was again reminded of how such a fury-fueled chain reaction can work while walking along 3rd Street in Los Angeles the other day, when an impatient driver proceeded to lean on her horn for an extended period of time simply because the car in front of her was waiting to make a perfectly legal left turn. Perhaps it was the motorist’s way of venting her anger over an unpleasant encounter with someone else – but I could feel the negativity this little episode of “road rage” gave off from 50 yards away. It made me want to go over and yell at her, and obviously was quite annoying to everyone in the vicinity as well. And that again reminded me of how a display of disagreeable behavior can pollute the environment with a kind of toxic cloud and of why we should always be careful to curb our irritation and resist the temptation to ‘throw a tantrum’, whether as a means of controlling those around us or simply as a response to being made the butt of another individual’s ill humor.
Of course, the ability to maintain one’s equanimity and objectivity, rather than giving vent to indignation, is a real skill that takes some cultivation. But developing that ability can be helped along by the realization that life is not a competitive sport that calls for treating others as rivals or opponents. While deliberately trying to “defeat” someone may be fine on a basketball or tennis court, taking an adversarial attitude in other situations simply creates negative energy that can spread like an infection and benefits no one. The only person you should be striving to outdo is yourself, not the people around you.