I’ve seen an increase lately in posts and comments about “focusing on the positive” and staying away from contentious issues like politics because things have gotten “ugly” and “negative”. There is a popular idea that if we stop focusing on the “negative” things and only focus on the good in our lives, we’ll be happier or more fulfilled.
Underlying this, however, is a not-always-acknowledged supporting assumption that there is no point in arguing politics or talking about the things that get people upset. That both sides are wrong, or neither point of view really matters, or that if one ignores the argument completely the choice can be avoided.
That, essentially, is what the “I refuse to be negative” point of view boils down to: avoidance. It’s a way of excusing oneself from dealing with a part of reality which brings stress and pain. It’s a lot like cleaning only the parts of your house visitors will see and shoving the clutter and dirt into private rooms and dark corners. For a while, nobody will realize you’re piling up dirty laundry and random junk in places out of sight. But eventually you won’t be able to fit any more in those dark corners, the smell will draw attention, or someone will discover your dirty secret before you can stop them.
Ultimately, the negative is very real. The consequences of conflicts are real. And avoiding the battle doesn’t exempt you from being counted among the conquered.
Can we really build a spiritual practice or life philosophy which embraces only the things which make us happy and avoids those things which bring us stress and discomfort? In the short term, maybe. But over time, the ignored negative will grow and change while we are ignoring it until ignoring it is no longer an option. At that point, a lifetime of focusing on the positive will have done nothing to prepare us for dealing with the negative we can no longer keep in the dark.