Monday, July 09, 2007

Melancholy Monday: The Messenger

I don't think any of us can escape critics or criticism. Not all criticism is bad, mind you. Good criticism is the stuff that makes us grow, develop, and evolve. But, bad criticism--purely negative--criticism is wasted breath. We get this sort of criticism from people who don't like us. Who knows why they don't like us? Maybe they disapprove of what we do because if there were to do it someone would've given them the hairy eyeball. Perhaps our negative critics are jealous? Who knows. But, there is no avoiding the purely destructive, negative criticism that gets served up by people who want to hurt us.

I am not so interested in the fact of negative criticism today, but rather the messenger, you know, the one who passes along the mean-spirited comments that another has made. I have always been fascinated by the messenger. It seems that there are two sorts: the hostile messenger or the commiserate-with-me messenger. The former is almost as bad as the negative critic. From my perspective, there is never any need, whatsoever, to pass along to someone the negative things--purely destructive and mean-spirited things--that others say. The old AA saying is helpful here: "what other people think about me is none of my business."

Those who choose to share with you what destructive, hateful things others are saying about you are often motivated by hostility. On some level they agree with the negative critics, but they can take cover, and pass it off--not as their own view of you--but what these mean people say. A true friend, one who cares deeply about you, however, does not share with you the ineluctable negative criticism that others utter about your person. The hostile messenger is, quite simply, not a friend. And, when you find yourself being told, multiple times, the hurtful things that others say about you, by a "friend," you need to start questioning their friendship. A true friend knows that the mean stuff other people say about you isn't true and comes from a negative, destructive place. A true friend simply tunes it out or makes certain that this sort of negative, mean-spirited vitriol is not uttered in their presence.

So, let's turn to the second kind of messenger, the "commiserate-with-me" messenger. This sort of person is persecuted by a hateful, negative, judgmental person (or goodness help them, many). Perhaps a relative in their charge, an ungrateful child, an overbearing boss, what have you. The "commiserate-with-me" messenger feels helpless and hopeless because of the negative person in their life, who is always finding fault, belittling or complaining. Rather that stand up to this meddlesome, toxic person, the "commiserate-with-me" messenger looks to implicate you in the misery, by telling you that so-and-so thinks X about you too and said Y about you the other day. The intention here is slightly different from the hostile messenger, who simply pretends to be your friend, while in reality agrees with the mean critics. The "commiserate-with-me" messenger wants you to feel as victimized and low as he or she does. Rather than confront the negative person in their lives, they want to share the wealth, so to speak, because misery loves company.

In either situation, you need to make clear that these messengers are not welcome. Whether they want to directly hurt you or just implicate you in their own misery, they are not positive forces in your life. They are downright melancholy.