The Big Issue : Edition 490
THEBIGISSUE7–13AUG2015 13 just so negative” is that they think ‘positivity’ is a good quality. Briefly, the other problem with their kind of reasoning is that they think they have identified “the real problem with you” and honed it down to a single diagnosis. Perhaps by virtue of my ‘negativity’, I am quite aware that I, like most human persons, have not just one real problem but, probably, more like 17. The real problem with me, Helen, is that I live with the constant and not always rational fear that if I open my mouth, I’ll only upset someone. The real problem with me, Helen, is that I, like most others, have spent the majority of my adult life trying to decode my childhood. The real problem is that I care too deeply, care too little, pursue pleasure, avoid pleasure, try to inform myself, try to sidestep informing myself and do not moisturise my neck as often as I should. The least of my ‘real problems’, I think, is a tendency to a negative outlook. A ‘negative’ outlook is, when viewed in a more positive light, not a problem. It is actually the basis for a lot of useful stuff. For example, when we look at the living history of scientific inquiry, we do not see that the fellas who fought the world out of the Middle Ages were recommending ‘positive thinking’. The foundation of knowledge is not in believing everything to be positive, but presuming it to be negative. It’s attempting to disprove, not to prove. Methodical doubt is probably the most ‘negative’ thing in history, even more so than Helen. In a less lofty and more personal sense, negativity has its emotional uses. If one expects the best outcome from a particular situation, one is more likely to be disappointed. If one expects not necessarily the worst but acknowledges the unlikelihood of the best happening, you avoid disappointment. And repeated disappointment is linked, by the methodical doubt of science, to the higher probability of experiencing mental illness. Which is hardly a ‘positive’ state. There are those, of course, who believe that if you put ‘positive energy’ into the ‘universe’, you will certainly receive a positive reward. Between us, these people are batshit crazy. If you follow this positive logic that holds positive attitudes responsible for positive outcomes, you are forced to conclude that the world’s one billion starving people don’t actually need to starve. All they need to do is think more positively. I accept that grumps who suppose that everything in life is bound to turn sour are very hard to take. And I also understand that those of us lucky enough to have food and shelter and other rights and even privileges are in a position where we can mildly impact our own lives based on the quality of our mood. But what I also understand is that positive thinking, when it is held as a cure for the world and for an individual’s ‘real problem’, is not much different to Middle Ages faith. Faith can be good, and it can make you feel better in limited ways. But, please, don’t suppose that all others in the world can be improved by your god, which is another name for positive thinking. “I am quite aware that I, like most human persons, have not just one real problem but, probably, more like 17.” RAZER Positively Helen PHOTOGRAPHSBYJAMESBRAUND “THE REAL PROBLEM with you, Helen,” she said, “is that you’re just so negative”. This made it tactically impossible for me to answer “No, I’m not!” without affirming her claim. If you have faced a similar allegation, I would recommend that you provide the answer “Yes. Yes, I am. You’re completely right and very insightful” and let your accuser continue with a positive assessment of your negativity with which you positively agree. You should then retreat to silence to think about why ‘positive’ things are held to be, well, just so positive. I have thought about this a little, as I am so often called an Eeyore. The problem with people who think that the “real problem with you” is that “you’re » Helen Razer (@helenrazer) is a writer and former hair-and-makeup assistant to former Speaker Bronwyn Bishop.