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Tuesday, February 6,2024

Bright-sided

By Jonna Shutowick. M.S. Ed.  
That is the title I uncovered digging through a box at my library’s annual book sale. It might as well have fallen off the shelf and hit me over the head. In her book, “Brightsided” (2009), Barbara Ehrenreich uses my entire life’s work as a verb, with the subtitle: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking has Undermined America. OUCH!

I’ve been looking at the bright side my whole life, but most publicly for the last 20 years in our happy little newspaper. I was stunned. And – if I’m being honest – annoyed. The audacity!

Once my ego settled down a bit, I was able to approach the book from a place of curiosity. How could anyone think positive thinking is anything but… positive? Yet even my own column has been met with hopeful optimism and praise by those who share my penchant for rose-colored glasses, as well as skepticism from others with more cynical inclinations. And no matter how wholeheartedly I believe in my rosy approach to life, it cannot be denied that the cynics are much more comfortable with their approach.

Is it really a difference of approach then? Or perhaps a different kind of wiring? We’re all familiar with the glass half-full or half-empty scenario. They are both accurate depending on our natural inclination. Who’s to say which is correct? No one.

People either lean in or lean out. They have faith it’ll all work out, or they find something that needs fixing in every situation. We need both kinds of people in this world. If we were all naysayers, daily life would lack levity. If we only saw the best in everything, we would lack a certain level of ingenuity.

As nature would have it, opposites attract. I imagine that is for a good reason. We balance each other out and learn from each other, hopefully resulting in a well-rounded approach to life.

Ehrenreich had good intentions with her message. Written during the fallout of the Great Recession of 2008, she blames America’s attachment to a sunny outlook for the shockwave that ripped through the banking system and almost caused its collapse. According to Ehrenreich, a failure to even consider negative outcomes almost took us down.

It brings me back to the Yin/Yang aspect of us all. We can’t all be Pollyannas. But we also can’t all become Negative Nellies because mistakes were made. I felt like Barbara was throwing the baby (ME!) out with the bathwater. But I too was ready to completely dismiss her thesis.

In his book “Good Arguments,” author Bo Seo describes a good argument as you and me against the problem. A bad argument is you and me against each other. We cannot learn or grow from differences of opinion if we keep viewing each other as “the problem.” Maybe “the problem” is that we don’t really know what “the problem” is, and we have a lot of loud voices claiming to know how to fix “the problem” – if only the people who are too jaded, shortsighted, stupid, selfish, cynical, Pollyanna… (Translation: different) – would shut up and let them handle it! (“the problem”).

Half-full or half-empty. Lemons or Lemonade. Both approaches have their value.

I think I just Bright-sided the bashing of my bright-sidedness. Can’t help it. It’s my nature!

 

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