What's your charge?

Go Positive. Go First.


Have you ever been in the presence of someone who lights up the room? Their aura just makes the air feel lighter, the colors seem brighter, and the issues seem smaller.

Alternatively, have you ever been to a dinner party where you can taste the tension? It's as if your chicken parm is seasoned with angst and apprehension.

The reality is that our social interactions are just energy exchanges between ourselves and other beings. They’re the means of putting our own energy to work.

We all carry a charge, either positive (+), negative (-), or neutral (0). As we pin-ball around this Earth, we bounce into each other and influence each other’s charge.

Here's the fun part. It doesn't stop there. Individuals have a charge, but systems also have a charge.

A system could be my country, my workplace, my family, or merely a 1-on-1 interaction with a stranger. Any time 2 or more individuals come into contact with each other, they're interacting as part of a system.

I know there’s gotta be an atomic analogy in here somewhere that incorporates protons, neutrons, and electrons but I’m not schooled up in physics enough to avoid botching the science.

So, I'll leave it to the experts...

One of my good friends, Joe Schmidt, introduced me to a profound talk given by one of his mentors, Peter Kaufman. Peter is the CEO of Glenair and author of Poor Charlie’s Almanack about Charlie Munger. In the speech (+ transcript) delivered to a group of college students, Peter explains the physics, biology, and history that support this idea of energy exchange. He does a brilliant job laying out a simple framework for creating & nurturing positive relationships. I highly recommend the listen.

He starts by explaining how the foundational driver of energy exchange in a system is “mirrored reciprocation.”
If I grab a cat by the tail, then I’ll likely get scratched.
If I smile at a passerby, then I’ll likely get a smile (or at least a smize) back.
If I strike up a lively conversation on a chairlift, then I'll likely get a friendly reply.
Positive or negative, we get what we give.

Peter takes us on a ride up an elevator to put the principle on display.

Oftentimes, the elevator carries a neutral charge. Passengers are checking their IG DMs, listening to the vibey elevator tunes, or just staring straight ahead to avoid eye contact (while pretending they didn't just fart). Overall, it tends to be a neutral system as people rarely interact.

However, if someone steps in and engages like, "Hey good morning! How's your day treating you so far?" Then, all of the sudden, positive charge bounces into neutral system... exchange... explosion! The system takes on a positive charge. People are interested, smiling, and elevated (+++).

Alternatively, if our newbie stepped into the elevator and complained: "This rain sucks! Anybody else's socks all wet?!?" Then, the previously neutral system might adopt his negative charge. People are drowning in their sorrows and wet garments (---).

So, Peter leaves his audience with a clear directive:

Go Positive. Go First.

My friend Joe embodies this practice. And he’s inspired me to do the same.

Why "Go Positive"?

It's simple... because I'm a part of the system that I'm charging! When I positively charge the world around me, then that's the world I get to live in. The energy we give out is the energy we get back.

When I go positive, I get to be around friends who are uplifting, rather than belittling. I get to work in a place where people feel connected and vivacious, rather than fearful and dull. I get to build a family that's supportive, rather than divisive.

These systems are the little ecosystems that we live in every day. These are our environments. These are the places where we're spending our time and, ultimately, spending our lives.

Do I want to live in a world that's electric or exhausting?

Why "Go First"?

Because the system naturally carries on with the status quo until a new charge is introduced. A group dinner spent commiserating about an impending world war won't magically shift to an enlivening discussion until someone changes the charge. "Hey, I don't mean to interrupt, but before eating, do you mind if we all share 1 thing we're grateful for?"

It takes a leader to change the charge because most people will just accept the system as it exists. They'll conform to the norm. This isn't "wrong." It's due to our desire to belong. We'd rather adopt the system's standard operating procedure than risk rejection. Also, we have a natural inclination for empathy. We feel the energy of the system, then, like a chameleon, we adopt that energy.

Yet, we all have a choice. We get to choose the charge we contribute to the system. Going first is an active way to exercise that choice.

Do I want to be a positive contributor or a drain on the system?

Am I adding electrolyte powder to the water or poisoning the well?

I intend to consistently contribute a positive charge to the systems in which I'm interacting. However, I'm not even remotely close to consistently carrying one.

Sometimes, a trigger will flip my sign to negative. Sometimes, my charge is just drained. Sometimes, I get frustrated & go negative because my charge is drained (I just love being high energy).

No matter the cause, I try to be aware of whenever I need a recharge.

A daily recharge might be a walk around the park, a mid-day meditation, or just a minute alone.

A weekly recharge might be a restorative Sunday or a Friday night in after a series of highly stimulating social engagements.

I'm learning how to be honest with myself when my sign has shifted. This helps me own my responsibility to take a pause & reset, rather than tossing a negative charge on the system.

I’m aware of the admonition against perpetuating "toxic positivity." I’m not suggesting that we neglect reality nor indulge in disrespect.

I wouldn't propose starting a "Fight On" chant at a funeral. Read the room. (And save that for the wedding.)

I wouldn't suggest replying with "Let's gooooo!" when a friend shares that they just got fired. If they just got sacked, then they probably don't need me to say, "Cheer up already and look on the bright side!" That drives division between us, rather than connection. I'm denying their current reality and telling them how to feel.

Instead, they probably need me to see them, to recognize them, to meet them where they are. However, eventually, I don't do either of us any favors if I meet them in their negatively charged state... then stay there. To continue to ruminate in their suffering state perpetuates the suffering. That's empathy without compassion.

Therefore, when the time is right (and this might take multiple failed attempts & a whole lot of patience), I can be the one to introduce a new charge. I can pull out whatever positivity they possess in them.

We all have the capacity for positive, negative, and neutral. We're often just waiting for a reason to justify which one to wield.

You, dear reader, are now aware of the charge you carry. You also know the power you possess to "Go Positive. Go First."

We all know that nothing changes if we don't chuck a new charge on a stagnant system.

It’s like the classic Gandhi line:

Be the change that you wish to see in the world

But in this case, it’s:

Be the charge that you wish to see in the system

We can't control the starting charge of the system, but we can control what we individually contribute.

So... what's your charge?

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