Positive thinking may be overrated.
Wait — I don’t mean there is anything good about negativity.
Maybe a better way to say it is… Positivity can have its pitfalls.
I began this post as an attempt to understand why i sometimes find “positive thinking” posts off-putting. What i’m coming to realize is that what i’m really contrasting, rather than positive vs negative, is one mode of encouragement vs another.
What i will call Mode One is a sort of tough talk, one that says… “Stop making excuses! Don’t let obstacles get in your way.”
Whereas Mode Two is more like… “You have a lot to deal with. Take the time you need to process and recharge.”
I rarely hear Mode Two as excessively coddling, which, taken to a far enough degree, would be its own inherent pitfall, i suppose.
It seems i more often come across the tough talk mode taken to a degree which hits me as lacking balance. Let me state clearly that i’m not disputing the intent behind it. Now that i think about it, maybe it’s simply that some people are more given by temperament to the first, others to the second. And (or) perhaps the approach we tend to take with others reflects what we believe we need to hear ourselves.
What makes me uncomfortable is that if the stated objective is personal “success” (depending on how one defines it), the resulting motivational-speak can come across as advocating for excessive self-focus, and even as somewhat detached from others’ real struggles. Referring to another’s difficulties as excuses has the potential to be heard as dismissive rather than understanding.
Please know that I’m well acquainted with motivators for whom this is not true! They genuinely care as much about others as themselves and have pushed through their own crucibles. I mean only to say it can still sound that way. (Maybe it’s just me.)
This song from 1993 wasn’t exactly one of the biggest hits of the time — only made it to 44 on Billboard’s Top 100 that year. But it definitely had more of a personal impact on me than any of the other 99. (Other than “Whoomp! (There It Is)” — just kidding!!).
“Hero” will always be one of those songs that hooks into a very specific era of my life. It was a time of disruption and transition, and the song instantly taps into the emotions associated with having to profoundly reorient my thinking in the context of uncharted life territory.
It not only takes me back there, but the lyrics have held up ever since for expressing a sentiment somewhat emblematic of my life — one of disillusionment and then acceptance. “I wish it were that simple…” It’s a deceptively plain story/melody, with some dissonance to be resolved along the way. Said another way (with a nod to William Blake), it’s about the passage from innocence to experience.
A couple of weeks ago, an incredibly moving scene played out in the wake of yet another mass shooting – this time in Charleston, South Carolina. At the bond hearing of the accused shooter, family members of those murdered professed their forgiveness of the murderer.
I’ve been pondering what it is about this scene that makes me uncomfortable. Surely an act of forgiveness — of the most horrendous of offenses, from the most personally wounded of positions — is to be commended, isn’t it?
To me, there is no question that these anguished victims, going against the normal human impulse to lash out and to seek revenge, are drawing from a resource they would likely describe as outside of themselves. It is nothing short of inspiring when someone of faith demonstrates the willingness to live it authentically in such a profoundly agonizing situation.
None of us can say with certainty what we would feel or say in their shoes. It is not my purpose here to declare what i might do or to hold forth on the effects of what they are doing — only to try to understand what i find jarring about it, beyond its rarity.