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Joseph Brodsky Explains Perfectly How to Deal With Critics and Detractors in Your Life

Joseph Brodsky Explains Perfectly How to Deal With Critics and Detractors in Your Life

In 1962, a young man named Joseph met a woman named Marina. They lived in Russia together. They shared a passion for art. He wrote poetry. She created paintings. They fell in love and had a child together.

It was shaping up to be a good life until one day in 1972, the Soviet officials came knocking at the door. They stormed Joseph’s apartment, took him captive, tossed him on a plane to Vienna, and informed him that he was exiled from the Soviet Union.

He never saw Marina again.

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Anti-Soviet

Joseph was Joseph Brodsky, the famous poet. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1987. His poetry, mostly written in Russian, was received favorably by pretty much everyone except the Soviet government. They claimed Brodsky’s writing was “anti-Soviet” and over the course of a decade he was slandered in the papers, pushed out of his job, and eventually exiled from the country.

Thanks to the help of fellow poets, Brodsky was able to find refuge in the United States and soon had teaching positions at Yale, Cambridge, and the University of Michigan. In 1991, nineteen years after being exiled from the Soviet Union (and what must have seemed like an entirely different lifetime), Brodsky was appointed the United States Poet Laureate.

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    How to Deal with Your Critics and Detractors

    In 1988, Brodsky delivered the commencement speech to students at the University of Michigan. The full speech is shared in Brodsky’s book, On Grief and Reason: Essays. I think it shares a beautiful strategy and method for dealing with the critics, detractors, and negative influences in your life.

    “Try not to pay attention to those who will try to make life miserable for you. There will be a lot of those — in the official capacity as well as the self-appointed. Suffer them if you can’t escape them, but once you have steered clear of them, give them the shortest shrift possible. Above all, try to avoid telling stories about the unjust treatment you received at their hands; avoid it no matter how receptive your audience may be. Tales of this sort extend the existence of your antagonists; most likely they are counting on your being talkative and relating your experience to others. By himself, no individual is worth an exercise in injustice (or for that matter, in justice). The ratio of one-to-one doesn’t justify the effort: it’s the echo that counts. That’s the main principle of any oppressor, whether state-sponsored or autodidact. Therefore, steal, or still, the echo, so that you don’t allow an event, however unpleasant or momentous, to claim any more time than it took for it to occur.

    What your foes do derives its significance or consequence from the way you react. Therefore, rush through or past them as though they were yellow and not red lights. Don’t linger on them mentally or verbally; don’t pride yourself on forgiving or forgetting them — worse come to worse, do the forgetting first. This way you’ll spare your brain cells a lot of useless agitation; this way, perhaps, you may even save those pigheads from themselves, since the prospect of being forgotten is shorter than that of being forgiven. So flip the channel: you can’t put this network out of circulation, but at least you can reduce its ratings. Now, this solution is not likely to please angels, but, then again, it’s bound to hurt demons, and for the moment that’s all that really matters.”

    –Joseph Brodsky, On Grief and Reason: Essays

    “It’s the echo that counts.”

    The impact of negativity is magnified when we talk about it, no matter what we say. We breathe life into poor decisions, bad ideas, and evil people by discussing them over and over again. You wouldn’t want to waste all of your meals on junk food. Why waste your thoughts on junk ideas and your energy on junk people?

    The best thing that can happen to bad advice is that it becomes irrelevant, ignored, and forgotten. In the words of Brodsky, “it’s the echo that counts.” Negativity doesn’t deserve a louder voice. Spend your time echoing something worth hearing.

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    This article was originally published on JamesClear.com.

    Thanks to Maria Popova of Brain Pickings for originally sharing Brodsky’s quote.

    Featured photo credit: OuadiO via flickr.com

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    Last Updated on January 18, 2019

    7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

    7 Ways To Deal With Negative People

    Some people will have a rain cloud hanging over them, no matter what the weather is outside. Their negative attitude is toxic to your own moods, and you probably feel like there is little you can do about it.

    But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

    If you want to effectively deal with negative people and be a champion of positivity, then your best route is to take definite action through some of the steps below.

    1. Limit the time you spend with them.

    First, let’s get this out of the way. You can be more positive than a cartoon sponge, but even your enthusiasm has a chance of being afflicted by the constant negativity of a friend.

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    In fact, negativity has been proven to damage your health physically, making you vulnerable to high levels of stress and even cardiac disease. There’s no reason to get hurt because of someone else’s bad mood.

    Though this may be a little tricky depending on your situation, working to spend slightly less time around negative people will keep your own spirits from slipping as well.

    2. Speak up for yourself.

    Don’t just absorb the comments that you are being bombarded with, especially if they are about you. It’s wise to be quick to listen and slow to speak, but being too quiet can give the person the impression that you are accepting what’s being said.

    3. Don’t pretend that their behavior is “OK.”

    This is an easy trap to fall into. Point out to the person that their constant negativity isn’t a good thing. We don’t want to do this because it’s far easier to let someone sit in their woes, and we’d rather just stay out of it.

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    But if you want the best for this person, avoid giving the false impression that their negativity is normal.

    4. Don’t make their problems your problems.

    Though I consider empathy a gift, it can be a dangerous thing. When we hear the complaints of a friend or family member, we typically start to take on their burdens with them.

    This is a bad habit to get into, especially if this is a person who is almost exclusively negative. These types of people are prone to embellishing and altering a story in order to gain sympathy.

    Why else would they be sharing this with you?

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    5. Change the subject.

    When you suspect that a conversation is starting to take a turn for the negative, be a champion of positivity by changing the subject. Of course, you have to do this without ignoring what the other person said.

    Acknowledge their comment, but move the conversation forward before the euphoric pleasure gained from complaining takes hold of either of you.

    6. Talk about solutions, not problems.

    Sometimes, changing the subject isn’t an option if you want to deal with negative people, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still be positive.

    I know that when someone begins dumping complaints on me, I have a hard time knowing exactly what to say. The key is to measure your responses as solution-based.

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    You can do this by asking questions like, “Well, how could this be resolved?” or, “How do you think they feel about it?”

    Use discernment to find an appropriate response that will help your friend manage their perspectives.

    7. Leave them behind.

    Sadly, there are times when we have to move on without these friends, especially if you have exhausted your best efforts toward building a positive relationship.

    If this person is a family member, you can still have a functioning relationship with them, of course, but you may still have to limit the influence they have over your wellbeing.

    That being said, what are some steps you’ve taken to deal with negative people? Let us know in the comments.

    You may also want to read: How to Stop the Negative Spin of Thoughts, Emotions and Actions.

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