What does “be positive” mean to you?

Some folks may innocently say “be positive” as a general synonym for “do beneficial things.” But in Western culture, “be positive” has come to have specific implications, including:

  • fake it until you make it
  • look confident at all times, even if this means never trying to learn anything new
  • don’t be angry/unhappy because it might put someone off
  • your inability to consistently visualize a positive outcome might prevent it from happening
  • you deserve unhappiness if you aren’t able to think it away
  • and so on.

I’ve come think that “be positive” is actually a code word for something quite ugly, when you look at what it is doing to young people these days. Everyone has negative feelings and negative experiences. Pressure to pretend that this isn’t true (i.e., that we can have it all if we play the part well enough) is only making people extremely fragile and intolerant.

Truly “being positive” begins with allowing yourself to feel negatively, without needing to hide it or beat yourself up for it. And allowing others in your life to do the same.

3 thoughts on “What does “be positive” mean to you?

  1. For me, being positive doesn’t mean ignoring all the negativity in the world or in your life. I think it means being able to acknowledge and accept that stuff, while also realizing that there is so much to be grateful for in our lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s a really nice definition, thanks. Unfortunately to most young people I meet (e.g. my students) it doesn’t mean acknowledging or accepting anything, just a lot of pressures to put on a positive front. If we don’t want to be misunderstood, those of us who use the word “positive” for something deeper (e.g., involving acceptance) need to start spelling out what we mean to say, and perhaps switching to a different word that hasn’t already been taken over by our culture to mean something destructive.


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