Rosemary MacCabe: Why is it no one can take criticism anymore?
Everywhere you look these days, you're besieged with messages telling us to be positive.
It all started, in a way, with The Secret - the best-selling film and book by Australian TV writer and producer Rhonda Byrne. In it, we learn that positive thoughts beget positive outcomes; what we manifest in our thoughts, we have the power to manifest in our lives. In short, we are magical creatures who can bend the world around us to our will, so long as we wish it.
The Secret lost me quite early on. It's one thing to suggest that positive thinking is good – we all know that, in most scenarios, crying over spilled milk isn't going to magic it back into the jug. But Rhonda's theory goes further than that. Your milk, she suggests, would never have spilled in the first place if you hadn't been foolish enough to let those nasty little negative thoughts in.
Seriously: there's a point in The Secret where Rhonda asks what we've all been asking – if positive thinking really works (as a way of changing time, space and the events therein), then why do bad things happen? What about natural disasters?
Well, gentle readers, take comfort; things like tsunamis clearly happen because – and here's where I stopped reading – there must have been enough people in that particular place, at that particular time, thinking negatively. It was all their fault!
It's one thing crediting positive thinking with all of your successes in life – sure, you probably wouldn't have got your business off the ground if you didn't have the determination and self-belief to make it happen.
But what about those people who will never be entrepreneurs? What about those who are born into poverty and never find a way out? Is it just their fault because they couldn't magically think themselves wealthy?
There's nowhere that the cult of positivity is manifested more clearly – and more terrifyingly – than on Instagram.
The hashtag #positive has been used 8.3 million times. #positivevibes is right behind it, at 5.1 million. #positivity is at 4.7 million. Think outside the box a little and you'll find a clear positivity favourite: #blessed has 54.5 million iterations on Instagram. That's 54.5 million pictures illustrating some person – or brand's – belief that the universe has #blessed them
On the surface, there's nothing wrong with positive thinking – but it's when it's the only method of seeing the world that cracks begin to appear. It's particularly dangerous when discussing mental health; the cult of positivity is just another stick used to beat those who are too ill to “positive think” their way out of their disease.
“Surely, if you could just wake up, and smile, and think of everything you have to be grateful for, you'd realise that there's no reason to be sad!” If only it were that easy...
And then there's the idea that any kind of dissenting voice or criticism of any kind is “negativity” – that someone questioning the status quo; venting about something that's made them angry, or upset; or in any way criticising the life choices of some of these self-professed social influencers (including myself in that description, although I keep my tongue firmly in cheek) is “bringing negativity”.
Without negativity, we wouldn't have any form of criticism. We wouldn't, for example, be able to explain to our children why maybe, just maybe, the Kardashians are not the best possible role models.
We wouldn't have the capacity to call out BS when we see it – if we all did our best to be super positive, 24/7, we'd never have known about Watergate; the CEOs of Console would still be spending thousands in charity money on groceries; we wouldn't have batted an eyelid when Savita Halappanavar died at University Hospital, Galway, due to complications during a miscarriage.
It may seem dramatic to compare the Insta-obsession with positivity to serious, hard news events, but it's important; our children and teenagers are learning more from social media than we could ever hope to teach them at home, or in schools, and that divide is becoming wider and wider as time goes on.
Sure, we teach our children to know right from wrong – but we don't teach them to pretend that wrong is right, or to ignore wrongdoing when they see it, even if they do run the risk of being “negative” in the process.
After all, what would a world look like in which we all – with no exceptions – devoted ourselves to thinking positively? Not only would it look incredibly dull; it has the potential to lead to vast levels of wilful, damaging, dangerous ignorance.