Attitude adjustment

After living in this coastal condo complex for a few months, I was asked to serve on the condo board. If you’ve ever served on such a board, you know it is not entirely a delightful experience.

I accepted the nomination though, as I thought it would be helpful to know what’s going on in the community. My condo is part of two developments, geographically meshed together and separated by name and a ton of paperwork that has sprouted over the years. We share some facilities, and others are exclusive to one or the other of the developments.

I didn’t live here long before it became clear that the relationship between residents of the two communities was unfriendly, to say the least. I’d be playing tennis with people from one complex and hear, “Oh the people in your complex don’t like us!” My neighbors were full of complaints about the people in the other complex. Board meetings were often peppered with snarky remarks about the adjoining community.

Then I discovered that within those reams of paperwork I mentioned was a stipulation that called for an oversight committee, made up of three owners from each complex. The purpose of this committee was to help the boards resolve disputes between the two groups.

Hmmm. I asked about this committee and was told, “Oh, it just never happened. We never got a committee together.”

Soon I was on a mission to make this committee a reality. That took a few months, but now we are up and running. We had a successful joint event last Saturday, a block party of sorts designed to facilitate conversations between owners from both groups. We had music, a giant yard sale, plenty of food and beverage and a fair turnout. Not a bad start to melting down some of the animosity.

The very day of the event though, I was chatting with a resident about why we were having it. He responded, “It’ll never happen. We’ll never get along.”

I thought, no it won’t if that kind of attitude is pervasive. I do agree with the belief that the energy we put out, negative or positive, breeds more of the same. At the very least the spoken words fertilize our own beliefs and may well influence others. I have no urge to write a self-help book about this intuitive belief, or try to set up studies to prove it. What might be helpful, though, is for each of us to become more aware of the negative messages we broadcast.

“We’re screwed no matter what.” “This company’s headed for disaster.” “Those people at the top don’t give a rip about us.” “Loyalty is dead.” “I don’t trust anyone.” “With my luck….” “Just watch, we’ll be back stuck in the old rut by next week.” “Expect the worst and then you won’t be disappointed.”

Within business organizations, I’ve heard all the above and more. Being exposed to that much negativity makes me want to go home and shake out my clothes.

Mindless sugary platitudes don’t lift my spirits either. There must be more solid ground though, in being open to possibilities for a positive outcome. You know I’m all for speaking your truth, but is it any more true to say “It’ll never happen” than to applaud those looking for a solution? Are we really safer by squashing hope? Can we invest in the chance of a positive outcome even though we risk disappointment?

Attitudes can shift, sometimes one conversation at a time. Rain might keep me off the beach (not always), and it is watering my gardenias. “Things will never change around here,” can be expressed as curiosity about what’s standing in the way of change. These reframes reduce stress and can become contagious, eventually resulting in a change to a more positive attitude.

Spouting negativity may be socially acceptable in some environments. Very likely it is habitual in some of your work or social circles. I hate to think that we’re bound together by negativity, though. I hate to think it is cool to always be talking about how bad things are around here. We may think we’re protecting others by warning them against hopeful outcomes, yet I can’t believe that is truly helpful.

I guess I respect my fellow human beings enough to believe they can deal with disappointment. Try as we might, our effort at improving relations here in this community may result in little or no change in attitudes. Disappointing that would be, yes. It would be much more satisfying to witness most of the residents thinking and behaving like good neighbors.

You know what? It just may happen. I’ll let you know.

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