Always Look On the Bright Side: American Christianity’s Toxic Positivity Problem
In which an entire culture struggles with what to do when things go really, really bad.
I had an interesting conversation just before staff meeting a couple of weeks ago with one of my co-workers. We were talking about the way the pandemic has cycled, and I made a comment about how maybe we could open up “in a few months, when things have calmed down.” Then I mentioned that it felt like we’d been saying things would calm down “in a few months” for two years, only to find ourselves, a few months later, in the middle of a new spike. After a moment she said, “Isn’t is important, though, that we have things like that to give us hope? We have to have hope that it will end if we just hold on another few months.”
I thought about it for a long time after the conversation had passed. I thought about it because I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve increasingly thought about the pandemic through a somewhat pessimistic lens after stumbling upon an interview with Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian philosopher. Summed up neatly, he argues that pessimism can actually be a quite happy way to move through the world. When we are too optimistic, we can be constantly disappointed, as we expect good things but do not get them. Pessimists, on the other hand, expect bad things to happen to them, so when a good things does happen, it contains an unexpected joy.
I’ve watched many people in my life make plan after plan because they assumed the pandemic was just about to turn a corner, only to find that they had to reschedule, or cancel, or worse, execute the plan as intended and then get sick. My wife and I have been hoping that the pandemic will resolve soon, but we’ve been pretty conservative about making these kinds of plans, jumping on the short spans of time in between waves to get us through weeks and months without having friends over or going out to do fun stuff. I expect more waves to follow, and more time in masks, more restrictions, and more time alone. It’s not easy, and it’s not fun, but I am able to compare my experience to those who have…