Monday, September 29, 2014
Being Positive, and all that rot
A friend posted this image on Facebook yesterday, prompting several interesting responses, mainly from folks who disagree with this notion. "Life isn't a test," the refrain goes, which naturally leads to the suggestion that it's all a matter not of how you look at life, but rather, how you choose to look at life.
This sounds to me an awful lot like the idea that you can choose to be happy, that you can choose to react positively to any situation. Stiff upper lip and all that, lads! Buck up, it ain't that bad! Cheer up! Look on the bright side! Life is so beautiful, how can you not be positive! How can you possibly feel that life is a test!
To which I say, Bollocks.
My argument with such thinking isn't so much with the notion that life is often beautiful, because it often is. There really is wonderment to be found in this Universe, and life offers many amazing, fantastical moments that I would hate to miss. But life also tests us, sometimes unforgivably, often cruelly. My mother-in-law only got sixty years on this planet. My son got fifteen months.
Life gives one test after another, and eventually, we all fail. There's a popular saying out there that "God never gives us more than we can handle." I've never believed this, because it seems to me that there comes a moment for each and every one of us when God most certainly does give us more than we can handle. We call that moment death.
But all that is tangential to my main point, the annoyingly pervasive notion that we can simply choose our way to happiness. I had a boss once who liked saying "You can't choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond." And sometimes, many times even, that's likely true. But it's not nearly as true as a lot of positive thinkers like to portray. Choosing happiness over sadness isn't like choosing steak instead of chicken, and I'm uncomfortable with the idea of putting the responsibility for sadness on the shoulders of those who are sad. It isn't that simple, and implying that it is seems highly disrespectful to me -- disrespectful of other people, their lives, their struggles, and yes, their choices, inasmuch as they have power to make any.
Life is a test, sometimes. And if you don't see it that way, I wonder if it's not because you've chosen to be happy, but because maybe you haven't really been tested yet.