You can find a negative environment nearly anywhere. I have a friend who’s dealing with some really ugly stuff in her life. We all know people in that situation and many of us have found ourselves dealing with ugliness from time-to-time. There’s certainly no denying that there’s ugly, bad stuff in the world. I think we have a responsibility to ourselves and everyone we meet to balance the ugly stuff with beauty. The problem with ugly stuff is that it can take over our lives. In fact, it can start to define our lives if we’re not careful. In my book, The Compassionate Geek: How Engineers, IT Pros, and Other Tech Specialists Can Master Human Relations Skills to Deliver Outstanding Customer Service, I tell the story of  Myeonghee Kim, a woman who escaped from North Korea. Her father was killed for the food he was trying to bring to his family and her mother died from cancer because there was no medical care available. She and her sister faced the choice of staying in North Korea and almost certain death from starvation or trying to escape and possibly getting killed in the process. They made three attempts to escape, finally succeeding on the last one. Her sister fell into the grip of human traffickers in China and was forced into marriage. They had no contact with each other for nine years until they were finally able to reconnect.

Today, Myeonghee and her sister are citizens of South Korea. I met her in the United States where she was taking part in a Korean American exchange program. She is a very positive, upbeat, kind, and happy person who’s a delight to be around. She certainly could focus on the bad things that happened to her, the negative environment of her past, but she chooses to have a positive outlook and to be a positive influence on everyone she meets.

How does your life compare to hers in North Korea?

When we have to deal with the ugliness that sometimes happens in life, we must seek out beauty to keep the ugliness from defining our lives and consuming our presence. Here are some things we can do when the ugliness starts to creep in. Start by taking a break from the ugliness, even if it’s only for a moment. Turn off the TV and radio news broadcasts, then go to a museum, take a walk in a park, listen to beautiful, soothing music, play with children, read a poem, eat a great meal, watch a happy movie (Okay, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for romantic comedies.), gaze at the sky, talk to animals, pet a dog or a cat, sit in your favorite chair and dream, watch funny videos on YouTube, give a big tip to a street musician, volunteer to help your fellow humans, smile at a stranger, sing in the shower (and sing loudly so your family thinks you’ve gone crazy), get a massage, meditate, or say a prayer of gratitude. Find something to do that leads you to your bliss, whatever that is.

Myeonghee faced ugliness in the negative environment of North Korea that most of us cannot even imagine, yet she refuses to allow it to define her life. She surrounds herself everyday with beauty. I think Myeonghee knows that each of us has a choice in how we view our world and how we respond to what happens to us.

The best way to keep the ugliness at bay, even when it’s something you have to deal with, is to surround ourselves with as much beauty as we can. A full immersion in things beautiful is the antidote for the ugly stuff of life.

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