Are You Positive?

There is no positive without negative. No good without bad, no light without dark. Everything comes in waves – life’s ups and downs. To deny the existence of the troughs in these waves, to refuse to admit that day always comes after night, means that equally, you cannot acknowledge the peaks, the highs. The first sun drenched day in early May would not be as glorious if it wasn’t preceded by a bleak winter of sub-zero temperatures, treacherous roads, and dusk falling so early it happened before the day even began. We must accept that some things are out of our control, are undeniably dismal, and the best way to deal with them is to acknowledge the situation and wait for it to improve with patience and dignity. Optimism is essential but blind optimism, the persistent ‘can do’ attitude, isn’t realistic or healthy.

People say that anything is possible.
It isn’t.

Say, for example, Gordon Brown wanted to become an Olympic gymnast. Gordon may be desperate; it could be a lifelong ambition of his that he was always too shy to pursue. Every single day of his political career could be spent sitting at his polished mahogany desk yearning for that jubilant moment when he mounts the pommel horse… the tickle of chalk up his nose, the crowds cheering him on. The fact is, at this stage in his life, it simply wouldn’t be possible to fulfil this dream. Sorry Gordon, but you couldn’t really pull off wearing a leotard anyway.

Barbara Ehrenreich has recently written a book in which she acknowledges that we cannot, in fact, control the world through positive thinking. She refers to the ‘pink ribbon culture’ surrounding breast cancer; the notion that if you think positively enough you can fight your disease. This idea ultimately puts so much pressure on the sufferer that should they begin to lose their battle, they blame themselves – hardly fair. Research shows that those who are happier and more content in their life suffer less illness, but to consider yourself capable of thinking away a potentially fatal disease isn’t justified. The mind has an amazing amount of the power over the body – physiology and psychology are inextricably linked – but to assert that one has ultimate control over the other is ignorant.

Barbara also comments that the beginning of the collapse of the global economy in 2008 was caused by delusional banking fuelled by false hope; a slightly bolder assertion, but one that requests consideration. At least in the UK, the pattern of borrowing from banks has lead to extortionate debt. Borrowers embark on the deal in the blind faith that ‘everything will be ok in the end’ when really they know that there is no way they can pay the money back. Sadly, a positive outlook on life no more changes the colour of your money than it does convince you that Gordon Brown would look good in an all-in-one.

Negativity can even be lucrative. Whoever coined the phrase “If you haven’t got anything nice to say don’t say anything at all” desperately needs a refund. The phrase denies the right to comment on the truth, which in itself isn’t very ‘nice’, and is thus riddled with hypocrisy. Look at Charlie Brooker who has made his living by, in a nutshell, being acerbically mean. He’s a well-respected journalist, someone applauded for Saying It Like It Is and Mr Brooker has gained this respect by wallowing around in a bath of scepticism, by observing that not everything is automatically tickety-boo. Humour and cynicism go hand in hand and right now they are carrying Charlie off into the sunset (something which he’ll no doubt criticise at a later date and then get paid handsomely for).

This isn’t to say that hope is useless, that positive thinking has no place – it just loses its value when it blinkers your perception on reality. It’s comforting to live in a dream world, but we all have to wake up eventually. Allow yourself to feel the troughs because your highs will be so much higher. Everyone knows that you look like ridiculous if you wear sunglasses at night. Take them off! Once your eyes have got used to the darkness, you will probably see the stars.

Published in Venue yonks ago, so no link.