In a little book that I discovered today, Dealing with Difficult People (McGraw Hill, 2006), R. Brinkman and R. Kirschner identify, amongst other difficult people, the so-called “No Person”: “This person says, ‘Every silver cloud has a dark lining’ and ‘I’m not being negative, I’m being realistic.’ Doleful and discouraging, the No Person drives others to despair” (p. 7). It is a temptation and even a reality that I recognize in myself and in others around me, particularly when we are stressed under time pressure: the projects we want to realize with others, the visions we have, seem to be rendered difficult and near-impossible by the practical hurdles that confront us, and that stress discourages us, sometimes fatally. On p. 91 of the same book, I find the following: “More deadly to morale than a speeding bullet, more poverful than hope, able to defeat big ideas with a single syllable. Disguised as a mild-mannered normal person, the No Person fights a never-ending battle for futility, hopelessness, and despair”. The stress originating in the practicalities linked to our ideas, particularly when connecting with inner fears and insecurities or with our anguishes and jealousies with regard to our relations with others, build a strong and dangerous recipe for giving up or torpedoeing our joint efforts.
These difficulties in our relations amongst ourselves, when we are at risk of discouraging or disempowering one another concerning projects in which we nevertheless, all of us, believe, represent a form of social acedia, and they are destructive. They endanger our joint projects ánd our mutual trust in one another. How can we best deal with these difficulties and counteract them? I distinguish various levels.
(a) At a personal level each one of us has to explore interior feelings and movements: what may cause, in each one of us, when context and inner weakness reinforce one another in a negative spiral, the tendency to be(come) a “No Person”? There may exit very strong barriers here in our personalities, for which we may be able to compensate as a compassionate group, that also knows how to positively use the fears and anxieties of people, in the awareness that difficult people are also a grace of God for us all. This is a level of personal discernment that also relies on the help of others.
(b) A same effort will have to be deployed at the group or community level: what are the social movements, relationships amongst us, etc. that may promote a No Attitude in the group or of the group as a whole? This is the level of social or common discernment. This requires that the participants in the common project learn to work together, to construct a community of practice along with the work done on the project.
(c) It will be important to identify the real stressors and to find out how to best deal with them, as well as to distribute their weight amongst all. Events may become overpowering or oppress us. This means that it is important to well design strategies that will embody the common vision. It will require the hability to point to real difficulties without affecting or diminishing the vision and the goals.
(d) There is the need to constantly reformulate, readdress and re-embody the vision and the goals set out. Even if we have to deal with a lot of no’s, their remains a profound “yes” that can work in an empowering way and allow us to address difficulties and challenges in a constructive and creative way. At different moments of the history of the project different people may embody the vision, as the movements of strength and weakness are a reality in all of us. It will be necessary, however, to design “social structures or institutions” in which the vision will be enshrined. These may be rituals, or art, or knowledge that is passed on, etc. The re-enactment of the deep “yes” that binds us together is always again necessary.
The challenge to articulate the “yes” and the “no”, without letting any of them become a compulsive drive, is part of the community building linked to the commitment to a shared and common project. In depth, the question is where lies our fundamental attitude: in the “yes” or in the “no”? in sharing or breaking up the community? These are spiritual questions, linked to relational constructionist models.