One of the best pieces of advice I have ever received was these three simple words: do not engage (DNE for short).

It’s brilliant and succinct. When you are surrounded by the negativity of others, don’t take the bait.

I happen to believe life offers you lessons until you pass them. Then you can grow and move on. I’m sharing this one because it appears to be a current theme in my life. Grab your tackle box, because I’m going to explain my personal perception of life’s negative relationships in a fishing metaphor. Don’t get tangled in my line when I say relationships. I’m talking about any sort of bond we have with other people: work colleagues, committee members, friendships, family or even romantic pairings.

It’s a big ocean. There are always negative eels among us.

Perhaps my sardonic pessimism encourages me to take the negativity bait set by others. I love a challenge. I also love to get the last word. Often I am distracted by shiny lures that promise some sort of competitive satisfaction once I bite that hook.

Far too often I have allowed myself to be dragged into other people’s drama, goaded into battle (even though I’m not looking for a fight), or am seduced into spite for the sake of proving myself right. When someone jerks the line, I bite the hook harder and create more splash than I intended. All of a sudden, I want to win. I will put far more energy into fighting the good fight than I do into thinking this is not my issue. Not my problem. Big ocean.

Somehow I forget what happens to the fish once it’s caught in the net and hauled onto the boat. This is what negativity does. There is no catch and release. You just flounder about until you are done like dinner.

Case in point: you get a rude email  from a miserable sod who wants to have a power trip, and you’re today’s target. The number one lesson in DNE: do not push “send” or “reply,” or even worse, “post,” when you are in reactionary mode. Avoid all social media platforms until you can be rational. Keep swimming. Avoid the hook. Sure, you can answer, later. First, draft a reply. Speak your truth. Lay it all on the line. Exercise your demons with the blinking cursor. Type your tantrum with grammatical clarity and punctuate your hostility with the poetic pleasure of every single period. And then, push delete. Seriously. Erase it. DNE.

When you are in a meeting with a moron, have faith that everyone else is also playing “spot the moron” and they too just want it to be over. Do not stir the pot. Chew your pen.

You know the happiest fish are the ones who eat the worm without biting down on the hook, right? Spend your energy on fighting the good fight. Don’t give away your contentment because someone else needs you to feel as lousy as they do. Big ocean. Swim on.

But hey, don’t blame the negative folks for trying. Fishing is a frustrating sport. Everyone has hardships, bad days and good days. Misery loves company. DNE.

I’m learning sometimes I can’t help the people who won’t help themselves. I give myself permission to cut the line and swim on.