beth maher

Lover of kitties, fine cheeses, screwball comedies and boys named Liam & Sam. Indie game maker. Hobbyist mom.

A site for illustrator and game designer Beth Maher

on the power of my negative thinking

I've been told more than a few times in my life to be more positive. 

This infuriates me. 

Yes I'm critical, anxious and - maybe others might say - a pessimist.

I know the common wisdom running through our current culture (especially in tech) is to focus on the positive, the good, the successful, the kind, the gentle, the wishy-washy and benign. 

I've seen this exclaimed, and proclaimed, to the extent that I've seen organizations say that they only accept or associate with "positive" people. Only they need apply! 

It's not simply that I disagree. It's that this is destructive, ableist, and discriminatory.  

My negativity isn't about being hateful, or mean. I don't even get angry very often. I believe in the power of love and kindness. I just don't think that can always be expressed through positivity. I believe that honesty, the truth is love, even when it's hard, or not "nice." 

Call it my criticality, my pragmatism, my cynicism - it isn't mutable. It isn't a personality flaw. In fact, it is as integral to building a better world to have critical people who point out where we have made mistakes, and make plans to fix them, as it is to have those who support us, cheer us on to do better. 

Sometimes my negativity - like many peoples - is driven by clinical depression and anxiety. I get a little too mired in what's wrong, and need some help to see all that's right. As much as I do my best to be well and not let on that I struggle with these things, I don't always succeed. That's just part of mental illness. 

So. All this means when someone tells me to "be more positive" they are telling me to stop being who I am, at my core, with some mental illness shaming to boot. 

So many of us creative people struggle with mental illness - especially depression. There must be something useful to civilization in it, perhaps not just our (as "crazy" artists) ability to look at things differently, but to look at ourselves, and the world hyper critically. The ability to see where change is needed and innovation is possible. We have that. Others can live their lives and get things done, but we need to reflect more. We live life by breaking it apart to see how it works on the inside, and then putting it back together again. 

Meanwhile, science is finding that negativity is not a flaw, it's a feature. There's plenty of evidence for this, like in this article I found in a quick search :  http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/4107096/

Of course, on top of all this, there's the fact that the charge of being "too negative" disproportionality hurts marginalized voices. It's a deeper cut of the old "You would be prettier if you just smiled" track women have heard for too long. It is often called tone policing in social justice circles, and it has the effect of silencing the oppressed from voicing their dissent. If we want to build a better world, we need to listen most closely to those critical voices. 

So. If you've ever found yourself expounding on the power of positivity, perhaps it's time to consider some balancing negativity instead. Please. 

Because for those of us born on the negative side of the scale, it's not a choice or a tactic or a personality flaw. It's just who we are. 

And the world is better for it.