If someone is heavily invested in their identity as a self-proclaimed ‘positive person’, how will they be able to acknowledge, and therefore deal with, the truly sad things in this world? Global warming, the brutalities of war, the pain of the sick, the poor, the broken hearted. Positive people have one setting only. Sadness, depression, grief, tragedy, have no place in their lives, and they have no patience with others who are experiencing these emotions.
All the great art of the world contains at least a hint of sadness, and the best writers, painters, musicians and film-makers know this. Light and dark, birth and death, joy and sorrow: these are the building blocks of life. Indigenous and Asian cultures seem to understand these dichotomies much better: think of the yin/yang symbol in Chinese philosophy, or the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
In Western culture we are running, running, running. We run from death, from pain, from our own selves. ‘Positive people’ don’t want to admit that we are plundering the Earth’s resources, destroying ecosystems and habitat, and presiding over the greatest extinction of species since the end of the dinosaurs. ‘Positive people’ are too busy staying positive to dwell on tragic events like the Holocaust or the war in Rwanda, and by doing so they never learn from them. And ‘positive people’ certainly don’t want to acknowledge that there is an epidemic of depression in Western society, predicted by the World Health Organisation to become the world’s second costliest health issue by 2020.
I don’t really hate ‘positive people’. Sometimes I envy them their eternally upbeat outlook on life, their refusal to be affected by the many tragedies and injustices of this world. But at the end of the day, I aspire to be a ‘positive person’ about as much as I aspire to be a citizen in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where people are permanently safe, happy, and numbed out on the drug ‘soma’.
“And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there’s always soma to give you a holiday from the facts”
I’m all for seeing the silver lining, counting my blessings, and having my cup half full. Hope and faith are vital if we are to even get out of bed in the morning, let alone reach for great things in our lives. But please, don’t think being a ‘positive person’ is some kind of virtue, achievement, or superior state of being. Me, I’d rather feel the whole range of emotions in this crazy, beautiful, terrible, wondrous world. Not just one.