If people cannot speak about their affliction they will be destroyed by it, or swallowed up by apathy… (Dorothee Soelle, Suffering)
“If people cannot speak about their affliction they will be destroyed by it…”
We are a social, verbally communicative species – the latter shown in the way we say that those who, for whatever reason, are non-verbal “can’t communicate effectively” – even though they often can – talking about experiences, feelings, and ideas is how we process and assess them. It’s how we seek empathy, understanding, validation, and, most importantly, help.
But, all too often these days, the attitude is “you shouldn’t talk about feeling down, or things going wrong – it just depresses everyone else.”
On the contrary, I find peoples’ joys and successes far more depressing when I’m struggling – but I would never presume to tell them to “stop talking about it”.
There are times I keep things to myself, because I’m dealing with them, and don’t want others to be anxious over my situation, but I often do talk about struggles – firstly, because other people may have suggestions for how to end the struggles that I, caught up in the maelstrom, hadn’t thought of, and secondly because it says to others who are struggling “you’re okay – you’re not alone out here.” Especially on social media, where everyone seeks to present the “edited highlights” of their life, to convince friends and strangers that everything is, as writer Marian Keyes says., LATT (Lovely All The Time), the dissenters, the disaffected, the hurting and humiliated, need to speak out, need to be heard – the pleasantness of others’ lives is often founded on stones drenched in our blood, or the blood of others very like us.
If you’re always positive, you become what’s known in marketing terms as “bullish” – at risk of holding on to positions, and making trades, that are unwise, and that, if you were in a more balanced frame of mind, you would have abandoned or avoided.
Positivity is what leads to risks being taken – which isn’t, in and of itself, bad; we need to take risks in order to grow and to progress – but they need to be the right risks, at the right time. And negativity is usually best for identifying those.
Returning, briefly, to that initial quote from Dorothee Soelle Dorothee Soelle, Suffering, I find myself wondering what it is that makes people want to shut down “negativity”, and thus drain away the charge of it. I’ve thought about it, and read around it, and come to the conclusion, with the help of Jim Paul and Brendan Moynihan’s book What I Learned Losing a Million Dollars, that it’s fear, a fear which arises from our habit of conflating “bad” and “failure” with “wrong”. No one likes to be punished for being wrong, and, in certain circumstances, we are punished for it. But a failure doesn’t mean you were wrong; after all, in any game, someone has to win, or succeed, and someone has to lose, or fail. The person or team who loses didn’t do anything “wrong” – they just came up against opponents doing the same thing they did, but a little better. When it comes to people “feeling bad”, this conflation leads us, unconsciously, to believe that that person is “a failure”, that they have “done something wrong” – and our inner children shy away, remembering how the whole class could end up getting a detention because of the misbehaviour – the wrong actions, the failure to conform – of one person. We don’t want to be associated with bad people, with failures. We don’t want to get life wrong.
And so we shut people down, shut them up, and fail in our duty to properly adult, to fully manage the full range of human emotions.