Positively Negative


When I began research for my book on anxiety and depression, I found myself confronted by the “Great Wall” of self-help books. Not unlike the one in China, it seemed to snake around the perimeter of the store. I would stand, paralyzed by the sheer number of books. My fingers twitching as I glanced from left to right. It was so hard to find a book that resonated. Something that spoke to me.

After sucking it up and spending some time looking through the selection and actually reading a few I came to a conclusion. These books fit two main categories. Either they are too medical or scientific or they’re filled with unicorns and happy singing gnomes. OK, not literally but HEAVY on the “everything is fine” “don’t worry be happy” side of things.

The medical or psychological ones are usually written by doctors or psychologist/psychiatrists. The books are thick and feel too much like a text book. Even the fear of a test looms after each chapter. How much would it suck to fail a quiz on Self-Help?

The second category is the one that I want to focus on here. Overly happy. A map to the wonderful world over the rainbow. Singing gnomes, prancing unicorns and, of course, puppies. Don’t get me wrong, a positive outlook is very important. I certainly support an optimistic view of life. The problem is it can be just as destructive as the darkness that you might find yourself in. Either extreme is harmful. There is no “The Subtle art of Staying F*cked Up” or “How to Lose Friends and Infuriate People”.

The problem with the “Everything’s OK” is that it isn’t always ok. They will give you tricks to suppress the anger or turn your frown upside down (which if you think about it, means you would be upside down and falling, head first… doesn’t seem too positive to me), but avoidance or blindness doesn’t erase the situation. In fact, when something bad does happen it can feel like a punch to the gut. You didn’t see it coming. Or worse yet, you suppress the negativity until you explode. Bits and pieces of you all over some poor unsuspecting barista who spelled your name wrong on a damn cardboard cup.

We need to be realistic. There is no good without bad. I’m not talking about theology, I’m talking about a frame of reference. We cannot define a sweet flavor without knowing what sour tastes like. There is not dark without light. Hot without cold. We need comparison. Therefore, we must experience bad in order to appreciate the good. Now, I’m not saying that you slam your hand in the door of your car so that you know how good it feels not to do it. We can rightly assume that it will hurt. The abstract is more difficult to define. Achievements, for example, only feel satisfying because we know what it’s like to not have achieved. We can only enjoy success by understanding failure. If you are in a constant state of bliss, it makes adversity that much more difficult to deal with.

Basically, batteries need both positive and negative charges to work and so do we. I’m not saying to seek out negativity, I’m saying, embrace it when it comes and accept it for the gift that it is. The gift of clarity and awareness.

Robert SmithComment