I was listening to a teaching by Pema Chödrön where she was describing the impact of behaviour on those around us, and she used the word pollution. She encouraged students not to add to the pollution in the world by getting sucked in to, or hooked by, negative thoughts; she said this only adds to the global problem of suffering. It struck me how often the atmosphere is polluted without realising it, not just through disposing of physical waste irresponsibly, but through people dumping their emotions on others and making decisions (conscious or otherwise) to behave badly. (So much of how we think and behave is automatic, which is why learning how to break the cycle (through techniques like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can literally change the world we live in).
Take care of your world. Take care of your mind. Pema Chödrön.
I started to research pollution and, as you’d expect, found articles about the types of things you see in the news: noise pollution, air pollution, light pollution and others, which contaminate our environment and are unhealthy, if not dangerous, for us. I also read more about “personal pollution”, something we may do to contaminate our own body and lifestyle – things like smoking, drinking, unhealthy habits and the way we talk to ourselves.
What affect does behaviour have on the world around us and is being ego-friendly (rather than eco-friendly) what’s really destroying the environment?
The mind uses the past as a reference point, which affects decisions we make in the here and now.
In modern day parlance if we describe someone as having “too much ego” we may consider them to be self-absorbed or self-centred; students often say to me that to be concerned with your own well-being is self-indulgent. But whilst the ego may be part of who we are – and taking care of who we are is important – the ego can trick us in to believing any number of things about ourselves and other people. The mind uses the past as a reference point, which affects decisions we make in the here and now. How we think has an effect on our self-esteem and how we communicate; it affects our personal identity, how we view ourselves (good or bad) and our place and value in the world. If we fall in to a place of consistently (and unhelpfully) judging ourselves and others, we’re being too ego-friendly and falling in to ego-traps.
Why do people behave this way?
Following Brexit in the UK, a number of comments were published online which could fall in to the category of toxic, the impact of which was undoubtedly polluting the environment. There was national outrage: people became high and hooked in to debate about who was ‘right‘ and who was ‘wrong‘. Friends verbally abused each other, families fell out and people were judged whichever way they voted, with some suggesting anyone who voted ‘remain‘ was a snob and anyone that voted ‘leave‘ was uneducated. This type of debate was neither helpful or healthy for the individuals concerned or the environment as a whole. The same thing is currently happening with the Trump/Clinton debate as I write.
The root cause for many of these comments may have been fear-based, about what may lie ahead or a desire to control the future, even though that future is unknown. Fear is a natural response, as is anger, but the impact associated with negative behaviour is destructive and far reaching.
So what can we do about it?
- Beware of people falling in to ego-traps. If someone you know thinks in terms of ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ for example when it comes to voting, they’ve fallen in to an ego-trap. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer, the future is unknown, there is only opinion. Offered with kindness, without judgement and with a view of being open to learning – and changing that opinion – it’s ‘okay’ to express it.
- Notice how you talk to yourself – and others. Imagine for a moment you’ve just dropped your purse or wallet on the floor and every single coin and note, card and receipt that was in it is now splayed across the floor in front of you. What’s the first thing you say to yourself? If it was anything other than “that was an accident, I’ll just pick that up”, (and particularly if you called yourself a name) then you may have got in to a habit of negative self-talk. Be aware of the language you use when you’re talking to yourself and others – how is it coming across? How we talk to ourselves can have a big impact on our self-esteem and confidence, you may even question your value in the world. If that’s the case, you may benefit from using some positive affirmations (positive ‘I’ statements like ‘I am a loyal friend’) and talking to someone about how to boost your confidence. (If your self-talk has become distressing, you may wish to contact an organisation like the Samaritans.)
- Beware of others doing a ‘dump and run’. You may have been feeling tired or irritated recently, but are otherwise fit and well. How is your environment affecting you? Using techniques like Mindfulness, you can become more aware of what’s going on around you and notice how toxic your environment, or your thoughts, have become. Letting other people know what’s having an impact on the world around you can actually help improve not just your wellbeing, but theirs too. Beware of other people doing what my friend Lisa Lister calls a ‘dump and run’ – e.g. offloading angrily on a frequent basis but not being open to receiving any kind of help. We all may need to vent now and then – and sometimes things can’t be changed – but we also have to be aware of how often we offload and what work we’re doing on ourselves to heal.
- Keep your circle positive. If you’ve grown up in an environment that was largely toxic, or abusive, if you’ve been repeatedly called names or had your value questioned, then just as the sea is polluted by an oil spill, you could be feeling the effects of that. You may have fallen in to unhealthy behaviours as a coping strategy (you’ll probably know what they are) and therapies like CBT can help break the cycle between how we think and how we behave. If you have found yourself in a situation where the behaviour of someone else (including a parent or partner) is having an impact on your mood or self-esteem, it’s worth considering creating some positive space and seeking help to keep your circle healthy. Don’t be afraid to call someone out on their behaviour if it’s becoming unhealthy (unless it’s unsafe to do that, in which case ask for help) and give them the opportunity to take positive action – lead by example and communicate assertively. As Pema Chödrön said, one of the greatest acts of compassion both for yourself and someone else is creating healthy boundaries, to help them stop hurting you. If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship right now, then organisations like Refuge may be able to help.
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