Thursday, November 10, 2016
By now, I assume - I hope - you have seen some of the immediate fallout of the election. Black and Latinx Americans are targeted for violence and hate speech. Women are being groped by gleeful men who assume that sexual assault plays a role in making America great. Muslim women are terrorized for their constitutionally protected expressions of faith. LGBT+ citizens waken to new uncertainty, bigotry, and fear. Buildings are vandalized - and we see the return of the swastika in public symbolism; we see bald faced antisemitism which too many of us pretended no longer exists.
I hope you have also seen protest. I hope you have seen that groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU are accepting donations and vowing to continue the fight for decency and justice. I hope you are girding your loins for a long and righteous struggle for a better America, one unstained by hate.
But that which troubles me today is the tide of well-meaning words, the praise of positive thinking - pleasant on its surface but hiding an unwillingness to see our not-so-new reality.
I have a grudge against positive thinking, both personal and political. Having a mental illness basically guarantees that someone - a friend, a family member, a mentor - tells you that positive thinking is your savior and cure, something other than paltry palliative care against what is sometimes a fatal condition. Mental illness is too often misunderstood as a weakness of will, and stock responses to real suffering concern themselves with how a change of mindset is surely the cure. Addiction, too, falls prey to that school of thought, as if struggling with addiction were only feeling a bit blue, a bit angry, a bit down in the dumps, a bit weak.
Surely, positive thinking can fix this! And then those friends, family members, and mentors let their eyes turn away from pain they are unwilling to face.
I've seen that nonsense happen in response to the tragedies of our nation. Well-meaning white people seem to think that Black Americans just need to forget the systematic oppression which is the cornerstone of our national identity and infrastructure. It's insidious and it's easy; it's simple to sit in front of our televisions and look at righteously angry people and say, in the nicest terms, get over it. As we wake up on the second day after the election, I see more of the same, and the guise of willful ignorance is often a beautiful image - a sunset, an animal, our flag - over which is written, we must be positive.
No, we must not.
There is positive thinking and then there is determination, and the difference between the two is immense. By telling others to be positive, we ignore their pain. Would you dare look into the eyes of a woman who has been assaulted and tell her to think happy thoughts? Would you be able to live with yourself as you stood over a Black woman who was beaten and spit upon and say, kindly, get over it? Can you look at your LGBT+ friends and know that this country just elected men who believe in abuse, in electrocution, to force a change their identity, and ask them to be positive?
If you can really do that, if you can ignore the truth, you have a strength of will I cannot imagine. But it is not a strength of character or morality or honesty. It is a strength in a willingness to unsee other people's very real and justifiable suffering.
And we are all, in some ways, suffering. I am angry here, and I understand that is uncomfortable. Perhaps we use positive thinking to hide our feelings not from others, but from ourselves. Perhaps we don't have the words to express our fears. Perhaps years of our culture trivializing mental illness have stopped us from developing the kind of skills I have had to learn in therapy - self-care, self-reflection, self-criticism. Honesty. Grief. Compassion. Maybe we use positive thinking to hide from how we feel and who we are.
But it is a gross injustice. We have a responsibility as citizens and as human beings to look into the experiences of our neighbors, friends, family. We cannot be blind, not anymore, and we must see the truth now more than ever. Tuesday thrust upon us a new duty, not to be positive, but to be determined.
We must be stronger, and that means changing the way we think, speak, and act.
I have sympathy for the moments of mourning which accompany a radical shift in the way we perceive the world. This election feels like a betrayal of a great institution, a democratic experiment, a home. But we're not going to fix it unless we get angry, get ugly, get - dare I say it - negative. We should be downright pissed off at how much and how often we have been deceived.
As a woman with a mental illness, I am telling you that we will get better, but that the only way to do it is to be honest. We hurt. We have seen others hurt. Our nation has been hurting for a long, long time.
It's time to face the truth, not with palliatives, but with determination.
We must face our pain if we want to survive.