Robin Smith / August 24, 2020

That Time Optimism Became ‘Toxic’

According to some on the Left, optimism itself is nothing more than “toxic positivity.”

The new offense according to the Left? Being too optimistic.

The Washington Post featured an article in the “Wellness” section entitled, “Time to ditch ‘toxic positivity,’ experts say: ‘It’s okay not to be okay.’” The premise of the piece is to encourage individuals to identify and embrace the reality of a situation, essentially working to avoid denial. Great advice. And yet, some of the quotes from experts move beyond being realist about circumstances to cast a bit of shame on individuals who choose to find the best in every situation.

Stephanie Preston, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, observed that the “exact origins of the label toxic positivity are murky, but the idea is rooted in American culture, which values positivity.” Translation: Those glass-half-full kind of people resort to a dreaded American value — positivity — that apparently now must be shamed and marginalized if they dare to be happy in the presence of any who are, instead, glass-half-empty folks.

Natalie Dattilo, a clinical-health psychologist at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, worried, “‘Looking on the bright side’ in the face of tragedy of dire situations like illness, homelessness, food insecurity, unemployment or racial injustice is a privilege that not all of us have.” She continued, “So promulgating messages of positivity denies a very real sense of despair and hopelessness, and they only serve to alienate and isolate those who are already struggling.”

So, it’s an unfair “privilege” to respond to life with determination, grit, and motivation to move out of the current state of hardship. Furthermore, having persistence to overcome a trying situation rather than remain in the situational valley serves “to alienate and isolate” those in the latter.

Clearly, minimizing authentic suffering is not a solution. Yet these experts are creating a binary path between overcoming a situation because one is “privileged” versus normalizing the despair and difficulties of others for any and all reasons — including some related to personal choices.

Specifically, the Post paraphrased Dattilo as saying, “It’s important for people to normalize and label their experiences while removing any expectations and goals that they should feel better than they do.” She concluded, “It’s okay not to be okay.”

So, behaviors that foster the belief that one is not doing well — which is just fine — are to be accepted as normal, while moving through despair and difficulty with hope, a brighter outlook, and even a verbal declaration as a personal challenge is to be done only with the appropriate guilt of knowing that you might be offending someone else.

Contrast this leftward view of resiliency (or the lack thereof) with a Christian perspective published the exact same day: “The 100 Factor of Negativity.” Sam Rainer takes on the same realities of struggle, sacrifice, hardship, and decline by acknowledging the weight of negativity versus positivity in one’s words and perspective.

Rainer asserts that 100 pieces of encouragement weigh the same as one piece of discouragement, offering that those who practice the disciplines of gratitude and inspiration must offer 100 words of praise and encouragement to counter the heaviness and heft of one expression of negativity. Rainer speaks of his mentor, Brad Waggoner, who posits, “Negativity is one hundred times more powerful than positivity. Being positive requires work, discipline, and intentionality.”

In making his case, Rainer observes, “Pessimists are not leaders. Only optimists can take people to a better place. Realism is a tool. Optimism is a posture. Realism is the map. Optimism is the compass. There are too many pessimists out there under the guise of realism. They are looking at the map wrong!”

According to The Washington Post, this attitude is “toxic positivity” and is rooted in privilege.

The WaPo masthead declares, “Democracy dies in darkness.” Forgive us if we tend to think that’s toxic negativity.

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