Monday, July 27, 2015

Are We Positive?

Are we positive? No! Thank Heaven, the last time any member of this web site tested "positive" was Grandma Bonnie Peters' last pregnancy test (the baby is now 42 years old). On lab tests for diseases, we're all splendidly, even miraculously, negative.

As regular readers remember (I discussed this in an AC article, years ago), the position of this web site is that the words "positive" and "negative" should not be used as if they were the grown-up equivalents of "nice" and "nasty." "Positive" and "negative" are useful as scientific, mathematical terms. "Positive" measures the amount of something that is there (occupying a position); "negative" measures the amount of something that is not there. "Negative emotions" would be the emotions someone doesn't have.

An example of a negative emotion would be the interest I feel in the strange idea of categorizing everything in the world by how I think I'm likely to feel about it before I've even thought about it, and thus allowing myself to think about only the things that I think are likely to feel nice. I feel no attraction to this idea whatsoever. I can't imagine how anybody would be able to think that way. Most of us get up in the morning and use the bathroom, and many of us also drink coffee, before any emotions kick in. I wonder whether Positive Thinkers really have to go through their little mental gymnastics, "Ooohhh, I have to want to climb out of bed--I mean my lovely, warm bed, or actually my, er um, fantastically sweaty, smelly bed, I have to love the odor of a bed that's been sweated in for six hours--where were we?--I have to feel enthusiastic about leaping out of bed and charging into my awesome bathroom..."

When I think about it, and I'm glad I seldom do, I'm glad I'm able to decide when to change the sheet without wasting a lot of emotional energy on it. I don't load a lot of emotion on the bathroom, either.

As a point of editorial policy, if we're talking about our emotional feelings at this web site, we use "like" and "dislike," "want" and "don't want," "nice" and "nasty," or whatever else may be appropriate. Often we don't talk about our emotional feelings, however, because we're neither manic-depressive patients nor teenagers, and therefore we don't have a noticeable emotional reaction to everything in life. I, personally, need to have an experience before I can pin that little emotional label on it. I've known people who claimed to believe that asking somebody "Is that a good book?" when they can see that the reader is less than halfway through it, or "How do you like this place?" when the person has been there only a few hours, was a serious question to which they expected an answer (other than "Just be quiet until you have something worthwhile to say!"). I don't know exactly what goes wrong to make people like that, but obviously something is wrong with their brains.

I'm glad I was given the sort of brain that processes facts, first, and then deals with any emotions that may linger, afterward. (The case could be made that this is positive thinking as distinct from positive emoting.)

As an editorial policy, this web site likes feel-good fluff. I seriously believe that somebody's teaching a dog a trick is "news," somebody's stringing beads into a necklace or knitting a pair of socks is "news," and if they've written well about how and why they did it, that "news" may be more valuable a year from now than the "news" that yet another candidate wants to run for President. We don't set out to look for feel-good stories; we just share fresh ones when we find them. We have separate categories for "good news" and "fun stuff" that don't fit into categories like Animals, Books, Crafts, and so on.

This web site does not avoid bad news. Not because we "like" reading about bad things happening to other people, or expect readers do; actually, we don't like endlessly rehashing a piece of bad news the way the commercial media do, so when the media sharks go into a feeding frenzy about a murder or an earthquake or some fading celebrity's latest bid for attention through displays of stupidity, this web site is likely to leave that story alone. But we've lived long enough to see that reporting disaster stories tends to generate support for relief efforts. Today's fire or hurricane may be bad news, but tomorrow, when the recovery begins, that will be good news.

We never want, the way the commercial media seemed to want on September 11, 2001, to cause people to huddle in their basements feeling bad about something that didn't even actually affect them. We may want to cause people to feel bad enough about something that needs to be fixed, or prevented, to do something about it. Don't sit around feeling bad. Do something that helps you feel better. Send money to the people in need. Write letters or sign petitions about the disastrous policy. Show support for the person who's being unfairly attacked or censored. Vote. Sing. Join a demonstration. Take a class. Say a prayer. Doing what you can to fix the facts will probably cause you to feel good.

Although generally immune to baseball fever, this web site finds baseball helpful in explaining how it's possible to feel good about the bad news. Baseball is played by teams. Nobody is throwing, catching, or running with the ball all the time; most of the players spend most of the time standing about, and the ones in the outfield may not actually touch the ball at any time during the game. When a baseball player does catch the ball, most of the time he doesn't run; he stays in his designated position and throws the ball to the player who can use it from his designated position. Calls to action can be like the ball in a baseball game. You or I may be in positions from which all we can do is pass the call, or the ball, to someone else. That may be enough to help our team, or our cause.

A compulsive urge to maintain, or fake, a constant manic mood can be harmful. People who tend to perceive and think before we emote sometimes feel an urge to puncture the emotional balloons of Positive Thinkers. I'm not immune to that impulse myself. Even in cancer support groups, where emotional moods can in fact reflect the progress of the disease, so there's a valid reason to fear unpleasant emotions...don't take it from me, take it from Barbara Ehrenreich. Facing up to the not-so-pleasant stuff, doing your bit to improve it, feels ever so much better than cowering in denial of "all that negativity."

If it works to rally support for whatever improvement needs to be made, I say, go ahead and wallow in the "negativity" of whatever needs improvement. I think it's possible to feel a difference between bogging down in unpleasant emotions, "Ooohhh, me-me-me doesn't like this, poor little me," and rallying our own minds, even before we evaluate the audience reaction. Recounting all the details of how much new school supplies will cost and how much this student's parents earned last year and so on may merely make you feel worse, or it may raise more money for the flooded-out school.

I'm glad I have the ability, and I hope you readers find that you also have the ability, to process the facts first and let the feelings follow. Because maintaining a focus on the facts feels good; it's empowering.

It doesn't mean that everything else in my life feels good, or that everything else in your life would feel good if you focussed on the facts. Some things feel flat-out vile. Ten years ago, my husband died. For the rest of the year 2005, everything reminded me of him and anything was likely to bring tears to my eyes. The difference my focus on facts made was that I accepted that part of being alive is that we love people, we outlive some of those people, and then we mourn. I didn't feel a need to deny grief or blame other people for it. Grief came; I worked through and around it as best I could; eventually it faded. I didn't demand that people tiptoe around "trigger" subjects like love, loss, teaching (he was a teacher), etc. I rejoiced with friends who were going through happier life experiences that year. Still, a sane, healthy experience of bereavement is bad enough. I don't like to imagine the strain trying to survive bereavement by Positive Thinking must put on the brain.

By and large, if I really think about it, I suppose I feel good about not having to attach emotions to everything, even to every physical sensation I feel. Last week I walked through a yard where a dog hangs out and was bitten by a flea. Humans have enough resistance to most of the infectious diseases that make our pets ill that we only barely notice feeling "under the weather," or tired, or at worst having "mild flu-type symptoms" if fleas transmit these infections to us. I've done less, and felt much more tired after doing it, during the past week than I've done and felt since...well, actually, the last time I was bitten by a flea. Walking ten miles in four hours left me feeling stiffer and wearier longer than walking twenty miles in six hours did last winter. If I expected myself to be perky all the time I would probably feel quite unhappy, dissatisfied with myself and irritated by other people. Since I don't expect myself to feel or project any kind of mood, just to get a reasonable amount of work done, and I've not been too sluggish to get the work done, I don't feel bad about feeling tired, at all. Feeling tired is not as good as feeling energetic, but feeling tired is better than feeling bad about being tired.

Although it's primarily about writing, and by no means exclusively about Christian writing, this is a Christian web site. I don't expect myself to feel, or seem, "spiritual"--whatever that means to whoever is using the word--all the time, either. (I have agnostic moods, and am most likely to express them when annoyed by "oh-so-spiritual" blather from people whose Christian practice is in fact obviously much less radical than mine.) Christian writers have let themselves be so viciously discriminated against that when someone does manage to write both inside and outside the denominational market, people seem surprised.

One book I reviewed a few years ago asserted that Christian ministers should not insert jokes into sermons. I don't know how the author of that book would feel about writers like James L. Snyder, whose "Out to Pastor" articles are syndicated in the Kingsport Daily News, inserting a spiritual thought into a humor column. Personally, I enjoy Snyder's column.

Recently Snyder asked whether there were any web sites or news feeds dedicated to "good news" out there. I don't know...I know that managing this web site generally tends to have a cheering effect on me, and I intend it to have both a cheering and a motivating effect on readers.