What Does “Be Positive” Mean?
Sound like a silly question? Being positive means being, well, positive, everybody knows what that means. But I say, not necessarily.
What we mean when we use the same word
To my mind, we are living in a time that begs for people to define their terms. We assume we know what others mean when they use a word. I rarely see a glossary of terms attached to a rant, so, absent that, assumptions can easily cause arguments to erupt solely because of a misunderstanding. If we don’t first discuss what we mean when we use the same word and make sure we’re on the same page, words are sometimes weapons used as excuses to retaliate. One glaring example is the word racist. It has more than one meaning. Some people use it as a synonym for bigot and prejudiced. But it can also reference systemic racism. I am complicit by merely being born white and benefiting from white privilege, a racist by association. In this case, it’s different from being a bigot, which is a personal bias against a group of people solely based on their skin color and/or race. Do you know many people who would have the patience and presence of mind to have that conversation?
Language as a vehicle
As far as the term positive goes, I bristle whenever I read an article that extols the virtues of not only being positive but staying positive if it is developed in the most superficial and cliché fashion. Consequently, stay positive suggests to my overtaxed, overthinking mind that I should engage in denying my fear, anger, pain, and grumbling. But, that is because I do not seek simplicity. I always try to push myself to dig deeper whenever I put an already familiar catchphrase out there in my own writing. It’s not everybody’s cup of tea — to use a cliché — but it is my cup of French roast espresso to use language as a vehicle to tease out the layers of meaning in our thoughts and emotions in a way that acknowledges the complexity of the human experience. It’s the opposite of political soundbites — and maybe that’s why it isn’t very popular.
Clarifying my own position
We are so impatient, me included. I’m always struggling to make my mind slow down and read more carefully because it is so much more rewarding that way. The payoff is that it makes me clarify my own position on the subject at hand. It makes me know myself a little better, understand more fully what I stand for. And if all of that happens then I can better express my thoughts.
Stay positive. What are some of the things it can mean? I’ve come up with a partial list below.
1. Employ cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to change your interior monologue.
An apt cliché would be: When life hands you lemons, make lemonade. However, since I hate clichés, I’ll refer instead to therapist John Tsilimparis’s point that we can’t do much to control the external forces that threaten our moods, but we can modify our internal reactions to them. New thoughts spur new feelings, which in turn can bring about a new set of behaviors.
2. Be a Pollyanna.
This would be absolute refusal to see tragedy and misfortune in a negative light. In the extreme, it employs denial that a sad event even happened. While this is not a bad thing — denial does have its virtues and advantages — it also carries the risk of severe depression if the sufferer weakens her resolve to find the good in a bad situation. The presence of other Pollyannas in her life can help with this.
3. Stop bellyaching and count your blessings.
This is my least favorite meaning. It makes me want to punch the speaker in the throat—metaphorically, of course, heh-heh. I just want them to shut up, not die of asphyxiation. That would be a tragedy…
…until somebody puts a positive spin on it.
What does stay positive mean to you? Do tell!
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