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The slavery of positivity

Posted by Simon Parke, 25 April 2017, 11.58am

‘Yes we can!’

It sounds inspirational, doesn’t it?

And it’s good to be positive, surely?

But we’ll be aware of the slavery of positivity, the ‘Yes we can’ culture.

Such is its present hold on our consciousness, it appears a crime to challenge it.

I almost feel guilty as I type these words.

We have to believe we can, don’t we?!

Of course we do!

Otherwise we all might as well lay down and die!

So yes, we have our growth plans, our mission plans and our targets.

We’re all go-getting entrepreneurs, activity machines, multi-tasking our way to a Nirvana of good outcomes.

‘The more active you are, the happier you are,’ this is the new creed.

The old morality of ‘shouldn’t’ is replaced by the new morality of ‘Can!’.

And if you ‘can’t’, for some reason, then, oh dear - expect a sense of inadequacy and shame.

No one can say ‘No’, to their boss or their phone…absolutely not.

Everything has to be ‘brilliant’ or ‘fantastic’ (though other super-sensational superlatives are allowed.)

And growth must be measurable, something that can appear on a graph in a power point presentation.

(So love, awareness and kindness don’t count in a ‘can do’ culture… sorry about that. They don’t work as graphics.)

It’s a ‘can’ culture, ‘Yes we can’, a ‘strive’ culture leading to, well, dishonesty, shame, anxiety…and burn-out.

And when I say dishonesty, I refer to people who bullshit.

They bullshit because they must give the impression they can…even if they can’t.

The ‘Yes we can’ culture does create first-rate bullshitters, it’s a natural by-product.

I’ve never, for instance, seen a vision statement - NHS Trust or otherwise - that has very much to do with reality…

And before you stop reading out of sheer frustration, I’m not against activity.

I love activity…activity creates and performs wondrous things, and sometimes it’s true – yes, we can!

People with a purpose can work happily and well…we benefit from a purpose.

But as with the bluebell, it’s all about the roots.

Let activity arise from rest rather than anxiety; let our great works emerge from stillness rather than fear or insecurity.

Jung foresaw our ‘Can’ culture on the distant horizon and warned appropriately.

‘Before we strive after perfection,’ he said in a letter, ‘we ought to be able to live the ordinary man without self-mutilation. If anyone should find himself after his humble completion still left with a sufficient amount of energy, then he may begin his career as a saint.’

He invites us first to live our ordinary selves (rather than our can-do lives) without self-mutilation, without self-punishment.

In other words, to discover what today we’d call self-acceptance.

This stage of development, a difficult stage, cannot be by-passed.

If it is by-passed, and we move straight into striving, we become dangerous both to ourselves and the world.

It is ironic that Barack Obama, who became president with the slogan ‘Yes we can!’, found himself so stymied by the Republicans in Congress.

The truth was, quite often, ‘He couldn’t’.

Sometimes we can, if we’re lucky; but sometimes we can’t, and it isn’t a crime…or indeed anything to do with us very often.

So we’ll beware of the slavery of positivity, with its insistent liturgy of brilliantly fantastic superlatives.

Away from our ‘I need a ‘Yes’’ boss…

and away from our phone, (what’s happening, guys!?)...

and twitter, (where people doing really great/funny things)...

and facebook (where everyone’s having a totally fantastic time)...

and the watching can-do world, (we’re doing this, what are you doing?!)...

...we will learn to live our ordinary selves without self-mutilation.

We will learn to rest, learn solitude, learn to say ‘No’ as well as ‘Yes’.

In this space, we experience ourselves with love and accuracy, away from frightened self-mythologizing.

Here is the truest energy for glorious activity.

And no burn-out or breakdown waiting for us along the path…

Yes, we sometimes can.

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