Author Robert Tew once wrote, “Don’t let negative and toxic people rent space in your head. Raise the rent and kick them out.” And he’s right; his modern proverb expresses well the way Jesus and other biblical exemplars such as Nehemiah treated toxic people. Thus, the first installment of this series focused briefly on the life of Jesus and revealed that Jesus walked away from toxic people. He refused to entrust himself to people who could not be trusted.
So if, like Jesus, we determine to walk away when necessary, we must be able to identify who is toxic to us and who is not. After all, we are not omniscient as Jesus was. Yet, there are some clear and identifiable signs of toxicity. Indeed, in the last installment, we enumerated ten signs that a given person behaving in a toxic manner toward us. Building on that post, this installment will make an analogy between toxic people and exotic species of wildlife. We will draw upon the ten signs from the last post, and for amusement’s sake, will compare each type of toxic profile to a “subspecies” of wildlife.
Not every subspecies of toxic wildlife is created equally. They come in varieties. Further, while some toxic people seem to have mastered holistically the dark art of toxicity, most toxic people are not quite so skilled; they have mastered selected aspects of toxicity and combined them with their natural personalities. Thus, here we profile seven notable subspecies who can be spotted on the terrain of our lives:
1. The Palavering Peacock: Have you ever met somebody who manages to turn any conversation toward himself or herself, sucking any available “air” out of the room? And if he is unable to get people to talk him or his chosen topic, he gets bored with the conversation and walks away? If so, you’ve encountered a distinctive sub-species of TP—the Palavering Peacock. These conversational hijackers prefer to feed on Large Group Lillies and Small Group Spruce, although when starved they have been known to graze on Single Person Sunflowers.
2. The Micromanaging Malapert: Do you know somebody who wants to control everybody and everything around them, even down to the small stuff? Somebody who suffocates you? If so, you have probably gotten a whiff or two of these control freaks—the Micromanaging Malapert—a TP sub-species whose preferred habitat is the Passive Person Plains but who is known to migrate quickly toward prey in any environment.
3. The Buffleheaded Bull: Have you ever encountered a person who seems to bull over everybody in his or her path? Who roll, like a Sherman Tank who see every person and social opportunity as a challenge that must be won or as underbrush that must be trampled? And who seems not to be aware of other persons’ feelings? If so, you’ve encountered an especially powerful variety of TP—the Buffleheaded Bull. Close cousin to the Palavering Peacock, this subspecies moves steadily through the Friendly Forests, knocking over every tree that is not deeply rooted and sufficiently sturdy.
4. The Pervicacious Pessimist: Do you look forward to spending time with co-workers, family members, or acquaintances who seem always to exude negativity and pessimism? Probably not. That’s because this sub-species of TP—the Pervicacious Pessimist—smothers the fires of happiness and positivity. This beast is known to consume enormous quantities of Positivity Poppies and Contentment Camellias, digesting them quickly and leaving malodorous muck in its wake.
5. The Melodromatic Malapert: Ever noticed that some people’s lives seem always to be entangled in drama? If you know a person like this, you’ve had an up-and-close encounter with a species of TP wildlife known as Melodromatic Malapert. For these dramatizers, something is always wrong. And once that problem is resolved, there’s always another problem (or several problems; why be content with having just one problem!). They don’t want help or solutions because what they really want to do is whine and play the victim. The Malapert feeds off of Everyday Eggplant and Circumstantial Cabbage.
6. The Circumambient Corrector: Do you know anybody who views himself or herself as the censor of everybody and everything in view? If so, you may well be acquainted with a fascinating TP sub-species—the Circumambient Corrector. This type of person is full of criticism, judgment, gossip, and slander. He or she seems to view every person or thing as deficient in some way. They tend to graze in the Higher Ed Hautes and Religious Reservoirs, where such creatures flourish and abound.
7. The Malign Mountebank: Ever noticed that some people tend to twist everything in life—even the small, inconsequential things—into an exaggeration, a partial truth, or even an outright lie? If so, then you’ve come face to face with a species of TP known as the Malign Mountebank. Like all TPs, this kind cannot be trusted, even with the small things in life. This carnivore manipulates and masticates many types of unsuspecting wildlife but, if it has its supreme preference, he generally chooses the prey available on the Political Plateaus.
Welp, there you have it: seven sub-species of wildlife in the Toxic Kingdom. Not that these are the only sub-species of Toxic wildlife, but they are seven of the most prominent. And, as it happens, these sub-species also breed with one another (metaphorically speaking), producing “mixed” varieties that exhibit a combination of traits from among the different profiles.
Now, just because a subspecies made the list doesn’t mean that subspecies is necessarily harmful to you. Perhaps your natural defenses allow you easily to deal with several of these subspecies. But it is probably true that several of the subspecies on this list are dangerous for you, personally, as they will your defenses aren’t naturally fitted to fend them off. In such cases, avoid them. Walk away.
In the next installment, “Toxic People 104,” we will reflect theologically on what makes a person toxic and how a Christian might respond to a toxic person. We will draw upon biblical stories involving Jesus and Nehemiah, as well as biblical passages in Proverbs and the epistles, along the way toward providing theological categories for toxicity and Christian responses to toxicity.