The Powerlessness of Positivity — Embracing the Real

unity1 We’ve all heard it said:

  • “Think positive!”
  • “Your vibe attracts your tribe!”
  • “Positive thoughts generate positive energy!” (also saying that negative thoughts generate negative energy)
  • “Being happy is the most important thing in life!” (generating a cyclical idea that happiness is the key to generating happiness)
  • “Send out positive thoughts to the universe, and you’ll receive what you pay forward” (also saying that if your vibe is negative, you’ll receive negative returns)

I’ll be the first to admit that I have a melancholic personality; I’m INFJ (although nearly perfectly balanced as an INTJ); a creative spirit with a need to go deep with even deeper ties. In short, happiness isn’t a trait that comes naturally to me even under my personal ideal circumstances. Learning to find and desire joy (which is different from the happiness as the term is used in this instance) will be a lifelong journey for me, but one I am willing to tread. That aside, I find it increasingly troublesome that The Positivity Movement is gaining such traction. Am I disturbed that people are seeking to be positive? Not at all. Am I frustrated that folks want to be happy, no matter their circumstances? Hardly. There are good and honest reasons why we all seek joy and happiness in our lives. My trouble lies in the emerging outcomes I seem to encounter on a daily basis. Perhaps you’ve encountered these too?

  • A colleague of mine refuses to acknowledge the negative (or what she defines as negative). only expressing a positive characteristic or gratitude of the other person that might have nothing to do with the present situation she’s in. She’ll affirm the person she’s in conflict with, but the actual situation causing chaos won’t even be affirmed or addressed. She relies on her positivity to counteract the negative situation. This isn’t a healthy or humanizing method of dealing with problems, in my opinion. It leaves the other person to accept the manipulated positivity and deal with the negative situation on their own.
  • When I think of the word “vibe”, I think of bright, intense colours. That’s right: colours plural. Our vibes are highly complex, tinted with all sorts of impressions, emotions, experiences, wisdom and cultural/societal norms. While I fully agree that our vibes are ours to be responsible for, I don’t agree that we are responsible completely. Even the most positive people turn off certain folks. It’s true that people who seem perpetually gloomy are difficult to be around, like people who insist on creating divisive drama. But attraction is not the final word on how we create community. In fact, people who seem to send out (for lack of a better word) “negative” vibes often are most in need of messy, loving community.
  • The positivity movement stagnates healthy development. By narrowly defining “negative” (anything that impedes what is defined as “positive”) and teaching that all negativity must be done away with, we become blind, deaf and numb. We cannot see the world (much less imagine it as something different); we can’t hear the world (and all it’s many voices); and we can’t feel the world (including pain, because to feel pain is a bad thing). When we erase the room for negative emotions, thoughts and even actions, we dehumanize ourselves. We become fabrications — false people who start missing out on the richness of the world, even as the positivity movement proclaims it can enhance our ability to engage it. We stall our development and growth; we begin to live in denial; and we start to judge those people we deem as “negative”, trying to stay away from them. Suddenly we start seeing a spiritual apartheid happening — those who believe they’ve found the key to life (happiness), and those whom the happy people believe haven’t found the key to life. This is a refrain we’ve heard before… I fully believe that there are toxic personalities we need to stay away from. People escaping abuse, neglect, or other harmful behaviours have every reason to choose to exclude certain people from their lives. I’m not suggesting we erase our boundaries. In truth, I’m advocating for healthier ones by suggesting that the positivity movement has taken on self-aggrandizing trends, which are harmful to us personally and in community.

I’ve written before, too, these modern laws of attraction are infused with economic and cultural privilege. If putting good vibes out into the universe is all that’s needed to have a fulfilling life, everyone in developing nations would be fully fed, safe, and considered equal by developed nations. As it is, they are not and I find it most distasteful that we would believe a false binary between positive and negative, love and fear, or happiness or sadness, trusting that these would constitute fulfillment. I want to continue to explore this positivity phenomenon in other posts. My sense is that negativity and chaos and sadness and all these buzz words that positivity seems to have pre-defined for us aren’t as toxic as we are being led to believe. I also sense that the positivity movement is a massive oversimplification of humanity — honestly helping a few people groups to a certain extent, but offering no real substance underneath for the long haul. Let the exploration continue…

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