When you’re suffering with a cold, it’s common for people to be extra careful around you. They speak at you from a distance, avoiding hugs and hand-shakes. Even where they feel sorry for you – in all of your snotty-tissue misery – they still seek to protect themselves from the germs you’re hanging onto. It’s apparently one of those times in life when it’s perfectly acceptable to put yourself first, and be selfish.
Yet most of us are nowhere near as discriminating when it comes to people’s personalities. We run from friends and loved ones at the mere sound of a sniffle coming; but we’ll sit and listen to someone we barely know gripe on and on about how incredibly miserable everything and everyone is.
Worse still, sometimes we’re the ones doing the complaining. I’ve written about this before on Skills with Frills, when I realised that I was myself exhibiting some worrying Dementor-like qualities, as well as spending too much time with people who inadvertently sucked the very soul out of me.
The message I want to focus on today, is the fact that whether we’re poorly, sick and dying, or have a clean bill of health, our personalities are contagious.
As an educator, this is something that I’m acutely aware of. When you’re teaching a room full of kids, you quickly become aware that your mood is felt and passed around amongst your students. Where you’re cheerful and bouncy and encouraging, they respond in kind (well… that’s the idea!) If you’re excessively tired, impatient and irritable; they’ll feel it.
I was always told that a class should never know when you’re in a bad mood. Even if you’re having a terrible day, you must still ‘put on your face’ and show them your cheery best. This didn’t work out every time, and Queen’s The Show must go on got a lot of play on my journey to school, but in general, I think my students and colleagues would describe me as a happy, enthusiastic teacher.
While it wasn’t always effortless, I nearly always found that I felt better in myself on those bad days. What started out as ‘fake cheer’ to inspire students, very soon became genuine happiness.
Teaching aside, this is something that we all need to be aware of. Any and every social interaction has the potential to spread either cheer or misery. This is quite a responsibility when you think about it.
The body language you exhibit; the words you use; the type of questions you ask; the tone of voice you use: everything you do and say has the power to affect the way someone else thinks and feels in that moment, and later on.
Of course, sometimes it’s perfectly okay to let yourself feel negative emotions. Trying to keep a permanent lid on bad feeling will very likely only lead to a psychotic eruption in the middle of Asda when you realised they’ve run out of your favourite Baked Beans.
But being a little less self-absorbed, and recognising that the way you carry yourself impacts on others, can’t be a bad thing.
Just ask yourself: what am I spreading? Is it worth catching?
Are you passing on smiles and hugs, or tears and tantrums? Are you ready to make a change and swap bellyaches for belly-laughs? Let me know how it goes in the comments below: