attack_laurel (attack_laurel) wrote,

Happiness isn't guaranteed, it's a bonus.

I love Shapely Prose. I wish I was smart enough to blog for them, but I am quite content to enjoy their incisive commentary. Like this great post from Snarky's Machine that pulls apart the "follow these steps to a happy life!" nonsense, and calls it out.  Even though I'm an eternal optimist, I've never liked the "think positive!" movement, because it always seems to boil down IRL to a silencing, victim-blaming movement that simply doesn't want to think about anything that might be depressing.  It's populated by people who stop every serious debate with admonitions to "keep it positive/civil/nice!", and prefer to pretend that the world isn't full of issues that need to be examined and discussed, mostly because they are (as the post puts it) comfortable with the status quo, and can't be bothered to put themselves in anyone else's shoes to think about how it isn't all cupcakes and roses for everyone.

This is different from being an optimist, I think.  Being optimistic simply means you're hopeful about the future, whereas being a Positivist means that if things go great, it's all because you're just the bestest, most deserving person ever - no matter that you might be in the right place at the right time, or part of the privileged class/race/gender, it's all because you deserve cookies. Conversely, if things don't work out right for someone else, then it's not the system at fault, but them.  They did something wrong, so they deserved to fail.  They aren't good enough to be happy!  They don't deserve the good life! 

This is the premise of The Secret, too - a nasty, victimizing way of thinking that actively blames people for failure and sickness.  You didn't think positive enough, so now you have cancer, the thinking goes, as if you'd have avoided anything bad by thinking good thoughts.

In each life, challenges fall.  Some are pretty fucking bad.  Some can't be dismissed easily; some are life-changing, and not in a positive way.  I've always hated the idiom "God doesn't give us more than we can handle", because it's complete bullshit.  Clearly, there is no way to "handle" a car crash that leaves you dead; handling the issue is a bit moot at that point.  Things happen.  Shitty things happen.  Life is random, and it's scary.

So, some people make up rules about life, as if they can control the universe.  A comforting illusion, perhaps, but one best kept to oneself.  Applying those rules to other people, and blaming them for their troubles because they didn't follow a ridiculous set of completely made-up rules is some nasty superior shit.  This leads to treating people to whom bad things have happened as somehow morally inferior - the rape victim "asked for it", the person with disabilities is "being punished by God", and therefore poor treatment of marginalized people is justified.  Which, while morally reprehensible, works great for able-bodied people to whom nothing bad has happened - until it does.

My life, despite my disability, is great.  I'm really happy.  Sure, I'm in pain a lot of the time, but I'm happy.  By the rules of the Positivists, though, I should be miserable; my disability is all that counts.  I must have done something to deserve the pain, right? 

How about turning the Positivist thinking upside down?  (Or turning the Positivists on their heads until they get red in the face?) 

It's a nice thing to rejoice in the happinesses we get, no matter how small; happy events and things make us feel good, no doubt about it.  But life is random, and being "deserving" has nothing to do with success.  Lots of people who are very deserving of nice things don't get them, whether through bad luck, or systemic institutionalized prejudice that keeps them down.  Bad things will happen.  Sometimes, they'll really get us down, maybe for years.  But taking the small things that do give you happiness can maybe give you the strength to have empathy for others going through similar issues, instead of shunning them like they're contagious.  There is strength and comfort in knowing others have troubles - look at the number of people on the 'net that have formed groups and sites to support each other and provide safe spaces for discussion where they will not be overwhelmed by lecturing Positivists who blame them for not "pulling up their bootstraps" and talking at them as if they're small, stupid children who have never heard that advice before.

Finally, the worst thing about the Positivists is that I'm not allowed a fucking bad day.  I want to be grumpy, snide, and angry sometimes, and that's uncomfortable for people.  There are people that are so determined to silence angry voices that they'll pull out every derailing tactic in their arsenal just to shut you up.  But, even as an inveterate optimist, I see value in anger, in depression, in feeling bad.  Feeling bad is a natural response to physical, mental, or emotional issues that are getting you down.  Anger is a great response to institutionalized oppression, even if a lot of people really wish you'd stop talking about it and let them get back to their insulated lives, oblivious to the harm the status quo is doing to large numbers of disenfranchised humans.  Because people who buy into "positive thinking" all seem to have one thing in common - they can ignore uncomfortable issues because they aren't affected by them.  It's easy to ignore racism and wish people wouldn't point it out when you are unaffected by racist thinking and actions.  It's easy to ignore sexism when it doesn't do you any harm.  It's easy to not care about disability issues when you can climb steps without a second thought.

It's easy to live without empathy.

But it doesn't make you deserving of nice things; it makes you a self-serving asshole.

Think social justice, not positive.  The real secret to life and happiness is that we're all in this together.
Tags: asshats, blah blah blah, compassion, deep thoughts, how bad theories get started
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