On a Scale of 1 - 10, How Cranky Are You?

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt
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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.

(Mahatma Gandhi)

So, recently I was standing in the back of the church awaiting the arrival of the students and the beginning of a Confirmation ceremony. While there I had a few minutes to check out the pamphlet rack and I came across a little brochure published by The Christophers entitled “Staying Positive Around Negative People.”

“Now that’s a helpful topic,” I said to myself as I quickly grabbed two of the brochures and slipped them under my alb and into my pocket.

The brochure starts with this observation: “No matter how hard we try to maintain a positive perspective on life, there’s no getting around negative people. They’re out there – in the next cubicle at work, behind the fence in the backyard, around the family table on Thanksgiving, in the bleachers at Little League games, on the Internet. So, how do we keep a positive outlook when confronted, perhaps on a regular basis, with people who travel with their own dark clouds?”

The brochure goes on to list some suggestions for dealing with negative people, such as: “Don’t take it personally; Remain grateful for what is going well; and View the challenge as an opportunity.”

The advice is helpful, but let’s face it – we all have to deal with negative people and it’s really hard to stay positive ourselves when we do.

There are some folks, it seems, who are never happy unless they’re unhappy. Their entire persona is characterized by negative scowls, negative thoughts, and negative words. They criticize, complain, and tear-down all the time! They dwell in a land where never is heard an encouraging word.

A committed crank sees the glass half-empty, not half-full and then complains that the glass isn’t bigger. A crank wakes up in the morning uttering not, “Good morning, God,” but rather, “Good God, morning!” and then goes to bed at night sighing, “Thank God it’s over!”

Unfortunately their crankiness isn’t self-contained; it’s an infectious disease that spreads quickly to others. A crank can spoil an important meeting, a relaxed cocktail party, a family reunion, or a simple trip to the store. Cranks are like weeds in a garden, a fly in the soup, or rain on the Fourth of July. They make a living ruining everything for everyone else.

You’ve heard it said that some people can light up a room just by walking into it? You probably know some people like that. It’s fun to be with them; you like having them around. Well, the opposite is also true – cranky people light up a room just by walking out!

If it’s an unattractive human trait to be negative and cranky all the time, how much more incongruous it is for Christians who are supposed to be buoyed by their faith and hope in the Lord. The Scriptures, Old Testament and New, are filled with exhortations to be joyful. For example, “Rejoice, you just, in the Lord; praise from the upright is fitting.” (Ps 33:1) And from St. Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always; I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4) And from Jesus Himself: “I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete.” (Jn 15:11)

People who are always negative and critical, it seems to me, fail to recognize the presence and providence of God in their daily lives. It is, in the end, a failure of faith.

And to take it a step further, if Christians are supposed to have a positive outlook and be people of joy, how much more so for deacons, priests and bishops who are called to preach the Good News? For the life of me, I don’t know how a preacher who always has a toxic cloud over his head and a scowl on his face can stand at the pulpit and proclaim the Good News of Jesus with any sense of conviction.

I think this is what Pope Francis was getting at when he wrote, so incisively: “An evangelizer must never look like someone who has just come back from a funeral . . . May the world of our time receive the good news not from evangelizers who are dejected, discouraged, impatient or anxious, but from ministers of the Gospel whose lives glow with fervor, who have first received the joy of Christ.” (EG, #10)

So, we deacons, priests and bishops need to do a serious examination of conscience. Do we live and preach as men whose very souls have been transformed by the joy of Christ? Do our lives glow with the fervor of the Good News? Or are we more often negative, critical, and . . . cranky?

But it’s a good exercise for you, too, dear reader. Ask yourself this question: “On a scale of 1 – 10, with 10 being the crankiest, where do I fall on the cranky index?” If you have a high number, it’s something to work on. Trust me – you’ll be more likeable, more pleasant to be around, and a better witness to the joy of the Gospel. And if you find that you’re irritated by this article, without a doubt, you’re way too cranky.