Thursday, March 21, 2013

Positive – or Neutral?

Today is Thursday, March 21, 2013.

The other day a friend of mine posted a famous quote from Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, one I've seen and thought about many times. 

"Keep your thoughts positive, because your thoughts become your words.  Keep your words positive, because your words become your behavior.  Keep your behavior positive, because your behavior becomes your habits.  Keep your habits positive, because your habits become your values.  Keep your values positive, because your values become your destiny." 

It's true that our thoughts have power to affect our behavior and thus, our lives.  But I've been wondering lately whether being "positive" is always the best choice.  I think the vast majority of people can agree that negativity is destructive and therefore counterproductive.   Certainly there's a place for positive thinking, but as one business leader put it, "by itself, positive thinking won't solve your problems." 

When I looked around the web for quotes on neutrality, I was surprised to find that the vast majority of people who weighed in on the subject considered neutrality a bad thing.  I think this is because people associate neutrality with apathy or neglect in the face of injustice, or holding with the status quo even when changes are warranted.   Many people also believe that neutrality represents indifference or lack of conviction.  Some people seem to believe that those who are "neutral" actually seek balance by aligning with one side one day and the other side the next day.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Individuals who are truly neutral do not lack interest, conviction, ambition, or passion. 

Neutral thinking at its best is unbiased, and objective.  It is moderation between extremes. It forces us to listen to all sides of a question and to take into consideration what other people think.  Neutral thinking does involve detachment from emotions, but that absolutely does not mean being unfeeling or uncaring. Instead, it means keeping our emotions in check, and not allowing our emotions to dictate our responses,  It means not allowing emotions to force us into snap decisions and knee-jerk reactions.  Neutrality doesn't mean that we never take sides.  Rather, it means examining all sides of a situation carefully and thoughtfully.  It means asking questions rather than rushing to judgment.  It means seeking more information and insisting on alternatives.  It means going with the flow and allowing situations to change naturally, rather than bending situations to our will.  Neutral thinking encourages us to respond appropriately, efficiently, and meaningfully to situations, rather than reacting to situations without consideration for how our reaction will affect them.

An ancient Chinese fable tells of a farmer who had some untamed horses that he allowed to graze freely, without being fenced in.  One day his son reported that one of the horses was missing.  Horses being valuable animals to farmers, all of the man's neighbors remarked on his misfortune at losing one of his horses.  The man did not seem concerned by this loss, however, saying, "We'll see."

Some time later, the horse missing returned, bringing with it a mate.  When the farmer's friends heard about this, they congratulated him on his good fortune, but the old man seemed unimpressed.  "We'll see," her remarked.

One day, the man's son was riding one of the untamed horses and fell off when the horse bucked.  The son's right leg was badly broken, and the son became crippled.  The neighbors once again commiserated with the old man, saying that it was such a shame about the son's injury.  Once again, the old man responded, "We'll see."

A few months later, military officials came to the area to draft young men for the emperor's army.  Seeing that the son was crippled, the recruiters passed him by.  The neighbors all congratulated the man on the fact that his son had avoided the draft.  But the man answered, "We'll see."

The point of the story, of course, is that we can't always judge whether a situation that we are in right now is good or bad, in the long run, because it may be the very thing that is necessary to move us to a better place, eventually.  Another quote going around Facebook expresses this very neatly.  "When things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place." 

What the Chinese farmer did was refuse to label or judge any of his experiences as good or bad, positive or negative.  It's fine when we label something as good and feel happy about it.  But what about when we label things bad and then start to feel miserable?  Are we really feeling miserable because of the situation itself, or because of our judgment of the situation?

In business and problem-solving, neutral thinking means that we start by asking questions.  How did the problem develop?  What is blocking a successful outcome?  What are some options for solving the problem.  Neutral thinking means that we don't assign blame, but rather think in terms of causes and effects. 

Neutral thinking can be shown in the way we phrase our opinions, our ideas, and our questions.  When a neutral thinker states a fact, she is careful to phrase it in such a way that she is open to others' interpretations.  (Facts may be facts, but facts can be interpreted a number of ways.)  Saying that something "seems" to be a certain way, that something "may be" true, is a softer, more neutral way to make a statement, and gives the listener the impression that the speaker is willing to listen to others' observations.

So let's take Gandhi's quote and substitute "neutral" for "positive," to see how it fits. 

Keep your thoughts neutral, because your thoughts become your words.  So far, so good.  When our thoughts are neutral, we tend to use less emotional or judgmental language.  Our words show a willingness to consider others' perspectives.

Keep your words neutral, because your words become your behavior.  Certainly, when we are thinking neutrally, our responses to situations will be more thoughtful and therefore more effective.  We won't waste time pontificating or emoting.  Instead, we will consider the situation from all sides, including our own underlying beliefs and attitudes, our wants, needs, and fears, as well as the underlying motivations of others.  We will consider as many options as possible, and allow others to weigh in on the matter.  We will take into consideration possible outcomes for each solution, and remain aware of the situation as it changes from moment to moment, staying open to necessary changes in our chosen response.  We know that there is really no such thing as a wrong decision, or wrong response, because whatever happens, we have the opportunity to learn from every situation, even if the outcome is not as pleasant as we might wish.

Keep your behavior neutral, because your behavior becomes your habits. Neutral behavior means responding rather than reacting.  It means considering causes and effects rather than assigning blame.  When we respond to a situation, we do so having chosen it carefully, so there is less chance of regretting our actions later.  We know that we are responding in a way that will ensure the highest good for all concerned in the matter.  We do what we can and move on, knowing that it is easier to accept the outcome of a situation when we have done all we could do. 

Keep your habits neutral, because your habits become your values.  When we make a habit of seeking more information and insisting on as many alternative solutions as possible, we signal that we value others and their contributions to any situation.  In that way we show our love and appreciation for all Souls, everyone else being as much a child of God as we are.  Neutral thinking shows that we value diversity, cooperation and harmony.

Keep your values neutral, because your values become your destiny. What is our destiny?  My spiritual path says that all Souls are on a journey of growth and maturation.  There is always a plus factor, always something more to learn.  Souls come to the physical plane to interface with physical bodies so that they can interact with the physical world.  This physical universe is a school for Souls, a place where we can learn to give and receive love, solve problems, interact and work together with others.  We learn to set priorities and make decisions.  We learn to take responsibility for the way our words and actions impact the well-being of others.  We spend countless lifetimes here, learning at our own pace.  When we've learned all we can here on the physical plane, the cycle of rebirth into the physical plane is ended.  Soul goes on learning in the Worlds of Spirit.  No learning is ever lost.  We take everything we have learned with us as we move from experience to experience.  There is always something more to learn, and the learning will go on unto infinity.  As we move along, we are given opportunities to be of greater assistance to more and more people, more Souls.  We are given more and more responsibility to serve in God's creation, and we are given more opportunities to work with others to serve all life. :-)


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