“Normal, natural emotions are now seen as good or bad. And being positive has become a new form of moral correctness.” So begins Susan David’s Ted talk on The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage. She goes on to suggest that “It’s a tyranny of positivity. And it’s cruel. Unkind. And ineffective. When we push aside normal emotions to embrace false positivity we lose the capacity to develop skills to deal with the world as it is.”
Focusing solely on positivity pushes away states of being that are natural and normal in our lives. Being negative sometimes is natural; being sad sometimes is natural; even being depressed sometimes is natural. These negative states balance out the positive and align us with how the world really works: in balanced cycles. If we force ourselves to be positive and push away the negative we’ll find ourselves out of balance with the world around us. And that unbalanced state is unsustainable. In the end, the world requires balance; it’s not optional. “Bad” events, such as death, disease, and accidents, will happen. Trying to be positive all the time won’t prepare us for these events. In fact, it’ll hinder our ability to deal with them. When they do happen, we’ll swing the pendulum to the other extreme, falling into negativity, sadness, or depression that we can’t seem to move beyond. Why? Because we’ve been living in an illusory reality that elevated positivity to a throne of importance and ignored the other half of our natural nature.
Do people ever ask why they need to focus only on positivity? Why wouldn’t they embrace some negativity? I’d suggest that it’s because they value results more than deeper lessons about learning. Positive thinking causes us to strive toward some future we think is better than the messy world we live in now. Embracing negativity as part of our natural state helps us accept and live within that messy world today.
Therefore, be, don’t become. Be here now, with what is. Be present for the true state that is within you. Be present for the way a child feels now. Don’t smear over these states with layers of positivity. Doing that is cruel, unkind, and ineffective. By embracing the negative as well as the positive we develop emotional courage to embrace all of life. Doing this helps us see reality as clearly as possible, which is required for effective action.