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Busting through the sphere of negativity
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 08/11/2008

Regular Corrections.com columnist Joe Bouchard is a librarian at Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility within the Michigan Department of Corrections. He is also a member of the Board of Experts for “The Corrections Professional” and an instructor of Corrections and Psychology for Gogebic Community College.

Consider the circle – an example of pure geometric perfection. Add a third dimension to this concept and one has a sphere. Optimally, this mathematic concept is without flaw, until we add the human element.

There are times when we build a spherical fortress of negativity. Our personal circular citadel is often so well built, it is impervious to positive energies. Are you trapped in a sphere of negativity? Do you perform your job in a less efficient manner because you allow yourself to be dictated by pessimism?

Corrections can be a truly negative vocation for many reasons. It is hard to deny that this is often a discouraging atmosphere. And there seems to be few tangible successes for the corrections worker. That despairing mode does not need any assistance from anyone in corrections.

Yet, it is prevalent. It also flows through many of our colleagues. There are those that make the work place less pleasant through incessant criticisms that are rarely constructive.

We also face the argumentative coworker that has a problem for every solution. No matter how creative, practical or innovative a proposed resolution may be, it will be faced with negation.

And, there is the associate that falls into the futility trap. To them, nothing will ever work. Unlike the person who has a problem for every solution, the futility specialist will not even bother to argue about the proposed settlement.

Fatalistic thoughts impact all segments of the working world. But, it is greatly magnified in corrections. Such a downward spiral produces job dissatisfaction, extended stress leave, a sense of hopelessness, and a lack of productivity. This atmosphere also ushers in the potential of stressful work and home lives. Over all, this facilitates a fuzzy (and, therefore potentially dangerous) focus on the job.

While all of those things are tragic, the last one, the lack of job focus, is truly dangerous. A negative work atmosphere creates apathy and disillusion. Demoralized and apathetic staff often engages in lax vigilance due to a lack of focus. That has the consequence of a potential peril for other staff and prisoners.

Does it have to be that way in corrections? Do we have to battle our daily priorities and fight the monster found in negativity? Don't we have enough to do without the burden of fighting against something that is largely preventable?

How do we bust through the sphere of negativity? There are many ways to wage war against pessimism in corrections. First of all, we must look to our mission statements in each of our departments. That gives us our professional reason for being.

Connected to this is the larger perspective. It is not too difficult to step back and look at the bigger picture. Our own local problems may seem smaller and more manageable in comparison when we take the long view.

When assessing the larger picture, we can also assess ourselves. Check yourself. Do you lead by example? When you mentor a colleague, are you overly realistic? Do you give balanced answers or lean toward the negative? Everyone can contribute by making his or her part of the facility more positive.

A major contributing factor to the sphere of negativity is the common grumble. Certainly, venting in moderation is healthy. It provides an outlet for frustration. It may also lead to brainstorming to produce solutions.

However, the wanton whine is debilitating to staff morale and professional respect. We can change some things, but should not complain about that which we cannot change.

In connection with this, the notion of realism is important. There are some things that will always be as they are, despite our opposition. This is also true of some of our colleagues.

Most facilities have someone that is perpetually negative. In this case, it is beyond the scope of standard professionalism to be overly optimistic. The realist will recognize this and concentrate efforts elsewhere.

Through all of this, the benefits might not be easily seen. But, they are there. By waging war in our own personal way against negativity in corrections we enable these results. There will be a less stressful work environment. As a result, less stress leave and less sick leave will be used.

There will be less turnover of new employees. Therefore, less costly initial training wasted on short-term candidates. Less recruitment costs will be incurred.

A stable staff body leads to security and safety. Job dissatisfaction will retreat, keeping good tenured colleagues on the job.

We work in a challenging vocation. There are pressures all around. Yet, we do not have to face all problems to the degree that we do. Yes, corrections is for the most part negative vocation. But, it does not need our help in making it more cynical. We can improve our work atmosphere and produce many benefits. This notion is not wide-eyed, naïve optimism. It is basic common sense.

It all boils down to this: By busting through the sphere of negativity, we contribute to factors that make a safer facility for all. Of course, we cannot expect the pure geometric perfection of the sphere when we look at the human condition. However, there are many ways to turn around pessimism.

Other articles by Bouchard:

Integrity pie

Selecting from a salad bar of concepts


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