Opinion: Negative charges 


Yesterday I walked in the house and casually asked Mary Ellen, “You haven’t had a chance to call the plumber yet, have you?”

“Why do you have to be so negative?” she asked.

“I’m not being negative, Mary Ellen. I don’t know what you mean. Didn’t I just ask a question?”

“See, there you go. In that one response you used three negative words. You could have said, ‘I am a positive person. I’d like to know what you mean. I always try to be agreeable.'”

This was not a discussion I was looking forward to. Not then, not ever. (Oh dear, three nots.) Time for lunch…

“Mary Ellen, we don’t have any peanut butter, do we?”

I did it again. I asked for advice on how to change.

“Next time, Dick, simply ask: ‘Do we have any peanut butter?’”

“Mary Ellen, this is not fair. We’ve been married a long time, haven’t we? You haven’t ever mentioned this issue before. This is not an easy thing to stop doing. Don’t you agree?”

I decided to show my wife that this was not really an uncommon way for people to communicate. One afternoon, I purposely didn’t shut the garage door and I didn’t turn the lights off in the kitchen. I also didn’t check the dishwasher contents before starting it. And I didn’t feed the cat. When she returned, I’d hear about all the things I didn’t do. And I’d be told, “don’t do them again.”

When Mary Ellen walked in the door, I was ready for her to explode with negativity. “Dick, please remember to close the garage door when you come home. And you left all the lights on in the house. Let’s try to save on electricity. And make sure you feed the cat. It also appears you ran the dishwasher half-loaded. Let’s conserve water.”

“No, no, no, Mary Ellen: a typical wife would not respond that way when her husband messed up so many things.”

“That’s four negatives, Dick. You’re getting worse at this.”

I told Mary Ellen what I thought most wives would say in a similar situation.

“Don’t leave the lights on in the middle of the day, Dick.”

“Don’t leave the garage door open.”

“Don’t forget to feed the cat.”

“Don’t run the dishwasher half-loaded.”

“Sorry, Dick,“ she responded, “I’m a positive person. I would ne… ne…

“Yes, say it—say it, Mary Ellen! Say the word ‘never.’ It will help you get out of this positive rut you are in.”

“Ne… nearly every day I strive to be optimistic. And I do that by using positive words. Do you see the difference?”

I didn’t, but that would have really gotten me in trouble.

I decided to play it safe and repeat something smart I said almost 44 years ago: “I do!”



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