How to Deal with Toxic People without Becoming Poisoned

How do you deal with toxic people without becoming poisoned in the process?

The question above comes from this week's episode of the #AskSteveAustin Podcast. The reason I chose to blog about it, in addition to responding on my show, is because I think this is a question many people are asking today. Our culture seems more divided than ever before. Whether it's mainstream American culture, politics, public education, parenting models, or even inside the church, we've perfected the art of screaming. 

how to deal with toxic people

We have made every issue our "hill to die on," and we take every opportunity to rage against those who don't support our views. We seem angry. High school students, grandmas, or pastors - it doesn't matter your age or station in life, everyone looks pissed off. But I think it's deeper than that. After all, anger is a secondary emotion. I've coached enough people to know that the truth that simmers beneath the outrage is this: we're scared. 

Our culture of anger stems from the religion and politics of fear. Pastors, politicians, and news pundits tell us that we should be deathly afraid of anything and anyone we don't understand. If you raise your children different than mine, you're the problem. If your skin is a different color, your prayers don't sound like mine, or you don't vote like me, you're not just different - you're the enemy. If we don't understand something or someone, rather than seeking to learn, we yell, "you're wrong" as we turn and walk away.

We're yelling so loudly, that we couldn't possibly hear the person across from us. Not across from the political aisle, the church aisle, or the chasm we've dug to keep "us" and "them" clearly defined. What we should be doing is taking the time to close our mouths, look our neighbor in the eyes, and listen. More than anything, people just want to be heard.

The art of screaming is ruining us with its polarization; it is stealing our peace, imploding our sense of community, and destroying the power of dialogue. You've heard it said, "You catch more flies with honey than you catch with vinegar." The way my mother said it was, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." I'm not sure that either of these sentiments is entirely accurate. I think we can (and should) speak truth to power, but we make more headway by talking about what we are for, rather than railing against the evil of the other side.

The world doesn't need one more divisive person or group. 

What we desperately need are bridge-builders. Who will move toward the center? Who will step away from the bully pulpit of the left or the right, and come to the middle, outstretch their hand, and welcome the "other" to a conversation? "They" aren't listening to our yelling any more than "we" are paying attention to their arguments. I wonder what would happen if we closed our mouths for a few moments and opened our minds and hearts? If we ever want "them" to listen to "us," we've got to stop screaming about just how terrible and toxic they are and show them, through kind words and clear actions why we have found a better way.

I fully believe that you reap what you sew. Toxicity begets toxicity and kindness begets kindness. If you want happiness from this world, you've got to emit happiness. If you're ever going to be heard, you've got to start listening. If you'd like some respect, start respecting the humanity of the person in front of you, even if you disagree with their position on the issue. You cannot change or control another person. All you can do is live your life with dignity, treat others the way you want to be treated, and make your message as powerful and full of love as you possibly can. What you put into the Universe, you will get back. 

How to put this blog into action:

  1. Make a list.
    1. What do you believe about God?
    2. What do you believe about humanity?
    3. What do you believe about those who disagree with you?
    4. What do you believe about God's involvement in the lives of your enemies?
    5. What are you for? 

More resources: