Have you ever encountered one of those toxic people who undermine your very existence? For decades, just the thought of such a person drove me nuts. I saw them as the reason people fail to thrive and dare I say even perish in life. Having reflected lately on all the advancements and great things that have been happening in my life, I stopped once again to reflect on such people.
Yesterday a man I was speaking with became aware I was a veteran and immediately blurted out “Thank you for your service”. No I didn’t think he was a toxic person, but my immediate response was to inform him how much I hate that phrase. I then went on to add, “If I wanted thanks for my service, I would never have become a Soldier.” Yah, he was taken aback by that (just a little) until this moment I hadn’t really reflected why I dislike this phrase so much. Mostly it’s because it feels like those with no knowledge of what to say, feel it’s the safe polite statement to make about a veteran’s service. In short it feels like lip service, and political correctness. After reflecting on my unintended rebuke, (it really was unintentionally blurted out) I realized to me this phrase is toxic. It’s like someone believes I entered into the service in order to sacrifice myself and my family, which is a far from the truth as you can get. If the truth be told, I entered the service because I wanted an adventure of a lifetime, and got it. I totally loved my career and never wanted to be thanked for it, I always felt like I had stolen the privilege of being paid to do what others could only dream of, or have to pay to experience.
It’s not the only phrase that bothers me; “You’re a survivor” is another one. I always imagine the guy (or gal) with a death grip on the roots of some vegetation hanging on the side of the cliff (insert mental image of Wyle E Coyote here). Until their strength gives out, these people are survivors as well. Problem is they never thrive in life. They just barely hang on until they lose their grip or the infrastructure gives way. Unless you have defiantly clawed your way back up on the top of Terra Firma, you really have only managed to survive long enough to take stock of how fragile life is, but you haven’t enjoyed the life you are living. Once you stand on the top of the cliff again and take stock of how much worst life could have been, and look toward to the open meadow in front of you, and engage it, you aren’t enjoying anything. You are only a survivor. Me, I’d rather be a Thriver (yah I know, I made up the word).
I think back over my life and remember all the naysayers, dream stealers and character assassins that I have faced, and it has come to me recently that I owe them an immense debt of gratitude. Every time one of these toxic individuals entered into my life I was compelled to prove them wrong. If I hadn’t out right rebuked them to their face, I most certainly envisioned doing so. Mostly, I would mutter under my breath and vow to undo any attempt at preventing me from my desired goal. Quite often some people who didn’t know me well would express that I was over confident or arrogant in my beliefs that I was always right in my opinions. My experience is that they really didn’t like that I rejected their opinions or attempts to limit my dreams and goals. Often as I accomplished my desire, some would approach me quietly and express (about their previous contempt) an apology for not having seen my potential. These people were no more malicious in their opinions then the poor man thanking me for my service. Yet despite the lack of intent, many of their words are toxic. The fact is, I just don’t want to be boxed into someone else beliefs of my limitations and most people without intent manage to accomplish boxing people in regardless.
At the end of the day, it is these people that have helped form me into the person I am today. Had I not faced this adversity; I would never have overcome the obstacles and emerged a stronger, kinder, mature man that I am today. And although I am sure I still have my critics as to whether or not I have accomplish the amount I feel I have accomplished that’s ok, I plan on proving them wrong anyway.