Toxic People, AKA: People

I have noticed a disturbing trend.

A few months ago, Laura and I entered a program that offers training to help you live your life more fully and freely. No weird, mystical stuff here; just solid, biblical, concrete tools for identifying whatever “stuff” you have in your life and dealing with it.

That’s not the disturbing part.

The training was great and extremely helpful. We both walked away better equipped to handle the daily stuff we encounter in life and in ministry. While it was not a marriage seminar, our marriage is now better than it has ever been. If you are interested in such attending such a training, send me an email or a comment (comments are moderated, so I won’t publish it; I’ll just reply directly) and I will give you more information.

The thing that disturbed me is not actually related to the training at all. But since the training, I have paid more attention to the advice and self-help posts that come across social media. There are many of these posts. Some of the quotes and recommendations are very helpful, but some are not so. One in particular stands out to me and is what I find disturbing. It goes something like this: “You need to remove all negative/angry/hurtful people from your life. They will only bring you down. You must make a choice for positivity and a better life, and that means removing negative people from your life. The problem is not with you, nor is it your responsibility. The problem is within him or her.” I have several concerns with this attitude:

1. It is not self-sustaining.
Let’s think about this for a moment: If everyone removes all of the negative/angry/hurtful people from their lives, the end result of that is going to be everyone removing everyone else from their lives. None of us are perfect, so when we hit a bump with a friend, then it’s, “Sorry, no negativity for me. Gotta go!” Even the most placid and peace-loving among us have our moments, and if those moments are not to be tolerated, then we quickly begin losing connections. (I realize that those posting such admonishments probably don’t intend to take it to such an extreme, but even if this is carried out in part, it leaves the “mostly OK” people separated from the “more upset than not” people. And the lack of interaction between the two is not good for anyone.)

2. It’s not realistic.
Not only would such an arrangement be good for no one, it is not even possible. To remove all such people from one’s life might mean quitting your job, or quitting your marriage or your family or your church or your neighborhood or your gym. And while drastic changes are certainly necessary at times, can we afford to give someone so much power over our lives by saying, “I choose to get rid of this segment of my life solely because you are a part of it”?

3. It’s selfish.
To live by this motto is essentially to say, “I place my happiness ahead of your value.” By no means am I suggesting that anyone stay in a situation that is dangerous or mutually destructive, but to say, in effect, “Hey, don’t bring me down or I’m out of here,” smacks of a lack of concern, and I would almost say of arrogance.

5. The premise is not always true.
That “toxic person” may not be that way of her own choosing. That person may be negative or angry or hurtful because he or she was mistreated or abused or held back or wrongly accused or ignored or neglected or for myriad other reasons. The mistreatment might have even come from the “positive person.” Sure, sometimes people just have a vendetta against the world, but I would say that is a microscopic minority. Perhaps, in many cases, he or she simply never learned the right way to treat people. And because no self-respecting “positive person” will now interact with them, perhaps he or she never will.

6. It’s not gracious.
Grace is the gift of treating someone better than he or she deserves. Forgiveness is a form of grace. So is forbearance. So is patience. Subscribing to this attitude leaves little room for grace. As a Christian, I believe that grace is essential to our approach to life, which leads to the last point…

7. It’s not Christlike.
Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said to forgive your brother for his sin against you 490 times, which is hard to do if you shut him out after the first dozen or so. Jesus said He came to save that which was lost. Jesus surrounded Himself with men who were callous and coarse and bumbling and offensive. Jesus reached out to those who had been cast out by those who had their act together. If Jesus applied the “does this person bring you down” test to me, He would have dumped me long ago. And if you know Jesus, reader friend, He would have dumped you, too. But–thank God!–He doesn’t do that. And I am convinced He doesn’t want us to, either.

Now, maybe I’m taking this in a way that it isn’t intended to be taken. Maybe what is meant by this line of thinking is different from what I’m hearing. Certainly, there are times when friends—and even family—have to part ways, although I believe this should be only in rare circumstances. Again, I’m not advocating that anyone put himself or herself in harm’s way. But I believe that, when a person is negative or angry or hurtful or difficult, that this is not an indicator that we should automatically shut out and alienate that person. On the contrary, that person probably needs us–and God’s love through us–more than any of our positive, practically perfect (plastic?) friends.

What think ye?