I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what to Rant about today. Every time I come up with a possible topic, I end up telling myself, “No, I can’t write on that; it’s too negative.” I try something else, and it’s too negative too. This has been going on for a while.
So now I’m wondering:
What is it about negativity, exactly, that makes us assume it makes someone’s opinion less worthy? I know I’m often a bit too much of a pessimist about things, but people do sometimes use that fact to dismiss what I say. On the other hand, people who are unrelentingly cheerful and optimistic are taken very seriously and assumed to be in the right.
This may seem like the beginning of another Kari is Feeling Sorry For Herself Again session, but it’s actually not. I’m genuinely interested in this phenomenon. What makes Pollyanna more reliable than Eeyore? Why is someone who always expects the worst automatically less accurate than someone who always expects the best? As far as I know, there is nothing in the physical laws of the universe that says that sunshiney beamers who see the good in everything are more likely to be right about what is going on than grumpy sulkers who are always looking for problems.
Maybe the myth of Cassandra is more than just a clever bit of classical irony; we really do tend to regard the Cassandras of the world as mere naysayers and Negative Nellies. Frankly, it’s probably self-defence. Sure, maybe the volcano is going to erupt and kill us all, but if we’re always harping on it, we’re missing out on enjoying the three or four hours left before it happens. If we sing and dance through life, we don’t end up paralysed by the knowledge that no one lives forever. People who do nothing but point out the negative tend to be unhappy themselves, and they can be seen as spreading their unhappiness.
On the other hand, it may not be entirely fair to place less of a value on negativity. The people who launched the Titanic were pretty optimistic. The people responsible for maintaining aircraft might, in contrast, be regarded as having pessimism built into their very jobs; if they just smiled and trusted that everything would turn out okay, there would be a lot more plane crashes than there are. The devout belief in Murphy’s Law ultimately leads to stringent safety standards and a lot of double-checking. Perhaps this double-checking is unnecessary 99% of the time; it’s the remaining 1% where it comes in handy.
The prejudice against pessimism also prompts some people to look askance at the grieving process. Mourning leads to tears, denial, rage, confusion; certain perpetually happy individuals think it should be possible to skip over all those inconvenient reactions, and they express puzzlement when this doesn’t happen. The emotions somehow become the fault of the mourner and stand as signs of weakness.
I am fully aware that it is bad to be negative all the time. However, I don’t accept that the opposite–being positive all the time, whether or not the situation warrants it–is an improvement. Optimism is not strength, especially when it persists in the face of the facts. Perhaps the ideal would be a mixture: the ability to be either positive or negative at need. I do think we should be able to recognise the necessity for sadness and anger and suspicion of “too much of a good thing.” Sweeping negative emotions under the carpet may make them less visible, but it doesn’t make them go away or solve the problems that have provoked them.