In spite of the multiple posts I have made expressing reservations about social media, it should come as a surprise to no one that I do waste a fair amount of time noodling around on Facebook. Part of it is sheer laziness – I come home from work, eat, and just want to unplug my brain for a while, and the internet makes it easy – too easy. But part if it is also fascination with what other people decide to post. I am just as guilty as the next person of posting my exercise habits, what I eat, where I’ve been, etc. I’m also guilty of sharing articles, political opinions, stuff I think is funny, and things I find compelling or inspirational. So I will refrain from pointing the finger at others who do the same thing, but with whose views I may disagree.
That disclaimer aside, I’m going to rant about a type of post that I sometimes find particularly galling: the “inspirational” post. These are the pictures/quotes that say sunny things about keeping a positive attitude, being thankful for each day, appreciating friends and family, not letting negative situations get you down, etc. This is all well and good, but I am finding that an excess of platitudes tends to drain them of any impact. I also find that these little bon mots seem to dumb down or gloss over the reality of complex emotions and situations. In particular, I often see posts about how you are in control of how you feel in any given situation. That is, if you feel bad about something, it’s because you are allowing yourself to feel bad. To a large degree, I think this is bullshit. Self-blame does not help in a negative situation. It’s bad enough that something is bringing you down; do you have to also point the finger at yourself and feel even worse because you are “allowing” yourself to feel negative emotions? This is part and parcel of the same bullshit idea behind books like The Secret, which trick you into buying them with New Age wishful thinking crapola about how if you just believe something, it will happen.
I’m not saying that positive thinking isn’t a powerful tool in a person’s emotional arsenal. What I think is important is to acknowledge that we aren’t always in control. People do bad things to each other, and it hurts. We make bad decisions that lead to painful emotions or situations, and it hurts. We judge and ridicule and put others down, and yes, it hurts – them and us. But it’s too simple, too general, to say that when we criticize someone or something, we are secretly, unconsciously, criticizing something in ourselves. It’s too simple to say that we can choose not to feel pain when something external to us – something outside our control – makes us feel bad. In fact, I argue that it’s not just okay, it’s essential to allow ourselves to feel negative emotions. Stuffing them down, not genuinely feeling those negative feelings of pain, sadness, judgement, helplessness, loss, embarrassment, humiliation – that does not help, and I think it makes things worse when the platitudes tell us we shouldn’t feel those feelings.
Negative emotions, feelings, experiences exist. We should acknowledge them. We should try to mitigate them and deal with them as best we can. I don’t think we should wallow or allow the negative thoughts to be an excuse for treating other people poorly. There is room for learning and introspection in every situation, and some people learn faster than others. Just don’t tell yourself that you shouldn’t feel those negative feelings. Heed the platitudes, but recognize them for what they are: feeble, if well-intentioned, attempts to apply general solutions to specific and often complex situations.