Are Unhappy People Attempting to Kill Me?

kinnon —  April 18, 2006 — 3 Comments

AngrywomancellphoneI tend to avoid chronically unhappy people who only ever want to share their woes with anyone within earshot. Their apparent pleasure coming when listeners succumb to the projected despair/anger/frustration. This doesn’t mean I advocate avoiding people going through a rough patch – as I’ve experienced the help of many good friends whilst going through my own. It does mean that I avoid those who have no intention of change – they get a perverse pleasure from their pain – particularly when they can inflict it on someone else.

Too often this happens in the workplace. Unhappy managers living to make those under them miserable. Or co-workers who want to rally adherents in their disharmony. In a recent Gallup Management interview – Your Job May Be Killing You, James Harter, Ph.D., Gallup’s Chief Scientist of Workplace Management and Well Being, cites studies that show the impact of workplace related stress and its relationship to heart disease – “the number-one cause of death in American men and women over 35.”

research suggests that the quality of the workplace can have a direct impact on the stress that people feel, which subsequently affects cortisol levels, which could then contribute to health problems like heart disease. It isn’t a one-to-one formula, but the workplace and stress seem inseparable. There are many potential ramifications for organizations, including healthcare costs and lost productivity.

Harter mentions one 8.7 year study done of 6,447 men in the British Civil Service:

The researchers measured various aspects of the work environment directly related to quality of management, including getting criticized unfairly by their boss, getting information from their boss, how often their boss was willing to listen to their problems, and how often they received praise for their work, things like that.

Then they tracked the incidence of coronary heart disease for an average of 8.7 years and found a 30% lower likelihood of coronary heart disease for employees with positive perceptions of their work environment compared to those with unfavorable perceptions of their work environment. The findings remained consistent even when the researchers controlled for age, ethnicity, marital status, educational attainment, socio-economic position, cholesterol level, obesity, hypertension, smoking, alcohol consumption, and physical activity.

The writer of Proverbs understands this when he says, A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones (for those of you who love the poetry of the King James Version). Or perhaps you’d prefer Eugene Peterson’s take, A cheerful disposition is good for your health; gloom and doom leave you bone-tired.

Kathy Sierra in another of her thoughtful post/essays looks at the impact of negative people from the perspective of brain science – her post partially motivated by Robert Scoble’s decision to moderate the comments on his blog. As Robert has said, just as he wouldn’t allow abusive obnoxious people in his family room (I’m paraphrasing) he will no longer allow them in the comments “room” of his blog. He has been worn down by the vitriol of angry people spewing their venom. (Practitioners of the UnGenerous Web, as it were.) Kathy says:

Even if we ourselves haven’t felt our energy drain from being around a perpetually negative person, we’ve watched it happen to someone we care about. We’ve noticed a change in ourselves or our loved ones based on who we/they spend time with. We’ve all known at least one person who really did seem able to “light up the room with their smile,” or another who could “kill the mood” without saying a word. We’ve all found ourselves drawn to some people and not others, based on how we felt around them, in ways we weren’t able to articulate.

And later in her post/essay:

And there’s this one we hear most often, especially in reference to comment moderation–“if you can’t say whatever the hell you want to express your anger, you can’t be authentic and honest.” While that may be true, here’s what the psychologists say:

“Psychologists now say that this is a dangerous myth. Some people use this theory as a license to hurt others. Research has found that “letting it rip” with anger actually escalates anger and aggression and does nothing to help you (or the person you’re angry with) resolve the situation.

It’s best to find out what it is that triggers your anger, and then to develop strategies to keep those triggers from tipping you over the edge.”

How do we effectively interact in this ten year old community of the web? How do we moderate the negative whilst celebrating the positive? I am still unpacking from my own perspective, the whole Generous/UnGenerous Web theme and attempting to come to terms with what pixel based community means and how it functions. Imbi’s comment on the Generous Web is that it is “a whole new expression of community that has started fresh.

My friend, Ed Brenegar (who I only know through electrons and pixels) made this comment on a Jennifer Rice post from a year ago (which he quotes in a post from last week)

Community requires commitment that involves sanctions for violating the core values and trust of the community, as well as benefits for full participation and contribution. In traditional communities these cultural norms are understood and act as the social bond that holds the community through hard times.

The blogosphere may not be community as we know it – yet it is definitely attempting to be community. And the heat and light generated by it have physical impact on those engaged in the communal discourse.

I have found my blood pressure rising and my frustration increasing as I read troll comments or angry blog posts that exist to belittle or disparage individuals. Bloggers like Scoble, with a huge audience, suffer the arrows of those who resent his influence, hate Microsoft, are annoyed by his Channel 9 laughter or just want a place to spew their venom. I was initially shocked at Scoble wanting to moderate his comments – but I now agree with him. Is it unreasonable to want to promote civil discourse? And if we extend the community metaphor to blogs being like family room conversations – would we not expect a more reasonable level of discourse than that occurring in too many comment sections of the blog village.

If for no other reason than our health, we need to be calling this global village of half-lit pixels to a higher standard of communication. You may debate my points, strenuously argue your position, reveal the fallacies in my logic – but when you resort to ad hominem attacks and perverse name-calling then the delete key is appropriate. Think of it as kind of a family room ejection seat.

Perhaps what we all need to do for our health is spend a reasonable amount of time visiting places like JibJab’s JokeBox – especially before writing our own posts or commenting on someone else’s. I may just play this one hourly. [HT: Gavin O’Malley]

UPDATE: The Head Lemur has a different take.

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A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

3 responses to Are Unhappy People Attempting to Kill Me?

  1. Interesting post … I’m coming to the conclusion that most people live in a state of hidden trauma. They hide in a variety of ways, but it normally comes out in some attitude or behavior that pushes people away. Jonathan Shay, a psychiatrist who works with Vietnam vet PSTD patients sees that one of the results of trauma brought on by extreme stress is the breakdown of character. I’d say that what these unhappy people are experiencing is some trauma, possibly self-imposed, that they then inflicted on others. I see this all the time in my client work. What’s the answer? Direct, honest, clear confrontation that is also gentle and kind. In effect, these people need a healing presence in the lives. And if the disease is serious, then serious honesty is needed, but without beligerence.

  2. Just In! Shiny Happy People!
    link to

  3. I’ve taken a quick look at your postings, which are very interesting. Lots of material and ideas! Congrats on being so focused!


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