• The “Surround Yourself With Positive People” Myth (Guest Post)

The “Surround Yourself With Positive People” Myth (Guest Post)

Hi Dojo readers,

This post was submitted by my friend and fellow martial artist Chris McCauley today, and I thought it was a good word worth sharing, particularly in this age of Instagram motivational quotes culture in which we find ourselves. Chris and I often disgree over a number of things and have done so for over a decade! But in the spirit of Disciple Dojo, I share this because I believe it presents some powerful truth that many of us may need to hear and grapple with, particularly this Holiday season…


“Surround Yourself With Positive People”
by Chris McCauley 

I was not asked to write this submission to Disciple Dojo, but rather I proffered it. The reason I’m doing so is becuase I think this issue strikes at the heart of both Martial Arts and Christ’s unique message to the earth and as such I think it’s appropriate to talk about as we go into the holidays and as we consider what is required of us, both as a martial artist and as a Christian, or if you like as an idealist. 

Unfortunately in modern society many connections are broken around us. People get divorced, fathers and sons have a falling out, friends move away, people suffer from mental illness and so forth. There is a sense of “modern brokenness” that pervades our lives and, unfortunately, that brokenness comes out during the holidays. The holidays, while supposed to be a happy time are full of stress, depression and so forth. Part of this is the changing season: fall usually results in a psychological downturn in most people, which is why we have holidays to cheer us up. Immediately preceding the holidays is the most common time for romantic couples to break up, divorce to happen, mental and physical illness to set in and so forth and so on.

The common wisdom of the time is to “Surround yourself with positive people.” If people are mean, mentally ill, abusive, or generally negative, then the common wisdom is to excise them from your life and to “care for yourself”. Phrases like “I don’t have the bandwith for that” and “I have too much on my plate already” are meant to distance ourselves from negativity in our lives, with the explanation that we, in our modern lives and because of “modern brokenness” don’t have the time energy or inclination to deal with these stressors and that we would be happier to minimize the time we spend with “negative people” and “draining people”. These are everything from cantakerous friends to co-workers who have problems to people in your family that have mental illness. 

The question I have is “Is this what we are called to do as a Martial Artist?” and “Is this what we are called to do as a Christian?”. For me, that answer is NO. People say “Don’t be a martyr”. Wait a minute, as a Christian aren’t we supposed to be willing to be martyrs, if the cause is just? “Don’t take the time, don’t take the risk that the person might hurt or burn you.” Wait a minute, as Martial Artists, aren’t we supposed to be adept at taking and dealing with risk, and adept at self defense?

It is undoubtedly true that “negative people” will try to drag you down into their mindset. They’ll try to drag you into their deal, into their mental illness and so forth and so on. That can certainly be true and certainly IS true for many people. Because of the stresses in their lives they are unable to manage the mental illnesses or negativity of others. 

I had a job at one point which I was very excited about working for a local small business. I was to aid in afterschool programs and for the first couple of days all went well. But about the fourth day in I realized my boss was a PROFOUND hoarder. This was on every level, and would shout at me if I wanted to throw out garbage, extol me to keep and preserve used napkins etc. This thinking was so negative and oppressive that I told them “I’m quitting. I’m not going to live everyday inside your mental illness.”

I think what I did was fair. Subjecting yourself to that behavior (and under that authority every day) is unhelpful and fruitless. However, at the same time, the policy of excising people out of your life at the slightest negativity, disagreement or mental illness is truly not what we are supposed to do as Christians, Martial Artists, or as humanity. 

As a martial artist years ago, I recieved word that one of my teenage students was involved in gang activity.  I don’t think this was a serious what you would call “gang” in terms of bloods and crips, but a negative group of people. The instructor above me questioned if we shouldn’t kick the student out of the class because of the negativity the student would bring to the class, the perception that we were teaching gang members to be violent, the shame it could bring the school and so forth.

I responded “absolutley not”. If there’s anyone I want to teach it’s the person most affected by violence, the person most at risk and the person most in need of help. Since I’m the person in authority over the negative person I’m in a position to help without the person profoundly affecting me with their negative behavior. As well, there’s a whole class of very positive students who are going to help this “negative person”. 

The other instructor is an example of the “surround yourself with positive people” mantra. We don’t want negative people in our dojo, in our church, in our family or in our lives. I know people who take this mantra very, VERY seriously to the point that they simply break off relationships with people who have done very little to deserve it. The mind of the person says “Why bother with people who disagree with me? Why bother with anyone who doesn’t enhance my life?”

Jesus did not “avoid negative people”. In fact he spend his time with the most negative people he could find. He spent time lecturing people who threw stones at him and condemnned him to death. He spent time with the most negative people of his generation, with prostitutes, with swindling tax collectors, with the sick, with the “worst of the worst” of his generation, calling them to righteousness

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matt 9:13

I would like to also focus on the sick for a moment. Jesus focused on the sickest people he could find. Healing the sick, ministering to them, and caring for them involved risks and fears that we don’t have now. With modern medicine we don’y have to worry about that. In the ancient world if you cared for the sick people YOU faced a risk of getting sick yourself! Help the lepers, now YOU are a leper! They did not understand transmisison of communicable diseases.

This is particularly important for us to understand as we face the holidays, as we face thanksgiving, awkward interpersonal relationships and/or broken ones. We are afraid, as the people in those ancient times were, that in visiting the sick we ourselves will become sick. And that’s a real possibility! But as Christians and as Martial Artists its our duty to mediate that risk. 

I’m not suggesting that you give into abusive or negative behavior, nor that you tolerate it. What I’m saying is that as a Christian or as a Martial Artist it is our duty to enter that struggle. This is exactly in line with both our Martial Arts attitude and Jesus’ message. 

All of us as Martial Arts teachers have had that one student that shines. The one that comes with excellent hand eye coordination, a positive attitude and a humble heart. That perfect student happens to me once or twice a year. We have the temptation to show that student favoritism and, moreover, to ONLY want that kind of student. What could be better?

The problem with this thinking is that the broken people, they are the ones who need us the most. The disrespectful student with anger issues and a raging case of ADD needs us MORE than the other kids. The lost sheep is who truly needs it. The good and just sheep are going to be fine, even if they never walked into your dojo, they are such nice positive people you KNOW they will be fine, whether they take up needle work or mechanical engineering they’re going to be great at it. We need to worry not about all the nice sheep but the lost one.

I have seen more negative effects, and more selfishness over “Surround yourself with positive people” than nearly any other kind of thinking. It’s thinking that pervades our culture, from the idea that you only want to hang out with “the popular kids” to the idea that you’re going to stop talking to your relatives. I’ve seen people cut people out of their lives like wheat with a scythe, never to speak to so many of them again, and this actually INCREASES, not decreases the brokenness of our society. 

If we don’t want to be around “negative people” what do we do with people who have mental illness? What do we do with the homeless? What do we do with the alienated and isolated? We further alienate them and push them to the fringes of our society. Then what happens? They turn inwards on themselves, and often they lash out at society. This seems to be a common theme in domestic terrorists, school shooters, and so forth and so on. People don’t want to deal with them because they’re “negative people” and slowly but surely they turn into the monsters we feared they would become. The “positive people” movement has a cost, and that cost is that lost sheep remain lost and turn to the dark side! 

This “Surround yourself with positive people” philosophy is not new! Jesus was dealing with the same problem back in his time. It was extremely, extremely pernicious, such that people would blame a sick man for his own condition! They thought that sick people were morally bankrupt, (or that the sins of their father was to blame). 

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time fled the sick, the mentally ill (those posessed of demons), the samaritan by the side of the road, the prostitutes the tax collectors. These religious authorities wanted to hang out only with the most “positive people”. They made wide their phylacteries and they sacrificed their goats at the temple, cloistering themselves away from the needy of their generation in the same way we do that with suburbs and the internet today.

WE must be the martyrs. WE must be the heroes. We must be the ones willing to take risks and fight the good fight, whether it’s stopping a woman from being mugged or stopping a friend from being depressed. I understand that at some point we need psychic space for positive thoughts. I’m not even suggesting that we have it be 50/50, that we should have half negative people and half positive people. 

What I’m suggesting is that we can’t take the attitude of of 100/0, that we only surround ourselves with positive people, that we want 100. That’s narccissitic, it’s evil, it’s selfish and ultimately it’s self destructive. We ignore the negative people and they become more negative. Eventually that EXPLODES into society. 

I am not going to make demands of you and say you’re not doing enough, that you should stretch yourself further. What I’m suggesting is that you are a POWERFULLY positive person. You are so powerful that you have SOME reserves to share, and those reseves of positivity should be given out. YOU are a Martial Artist. YOU are an idealistic Christian. YOU are a good person. YOU are not lost and you have a duty to be a lighthouse to those that are. 

This holiday, minister to the sick, both the physically sick and the mentally sick. Take that risk. Engage that struggle. If you have to minimize your exposure, do what you can. Reach that limit. Go a little beyond that limit. Expand your bandwith. Move stuff off your place. Get to the lost sheep. We are the lights, we must do as much as we can!

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