I have a history of getting myself into trouble over Christmas cheer. When I was in 7th grade, the nun who was my teacher had posted pictures of the Brazilian jungle (related to our geography lessons) bordered with holly leaves, pine cones, and other holiday decorations. With all the snarkiness of a budding adolescent, I commented to some friends that the display was ridiculous. Unfortunately, Sister Edith heard me and called me out for being a Scrooge.
While I’ve had a happy visit from my youngest daughter and good calls with my other offspring, as is my wont I’ve been doing some serious reading during this week between Christmas and New Years. I’ve wanted to share some of this reading, but couldn’t find a way to make it fit with the holiday spirit. Some Facebook posts I saw today have given me the way in. These posts are sign that some people are experiencing family tensions over the holidays. One friend reposted this comment:
not sure if this will make sense to anyone
besides me but: the antidote to negativity is
not positivity, it’s warmth
positivity tells a sad person that there is
no reason to be sad. warmth asks the sad
person if they want to go get some ice cream
Warm love, more powerful than positive thinking. The re-post continued.
I like this. I am so sick of toxic positivity. You can’t fix everything.
The kindest thing a friend ever did during my darkest time? She showed up and let me wallow in sadness on the couch. She bustled into my kitchen, cleaned it with specific cleaning supplies she knew reminded me of my Vavo (grandmother) and put on a huge pot of soup while she baked bread.
She didn’t tell me it would get better. She didn’t even prompt me to talk.
But she fed me good bread and soup and I knew I was loved.
My friend then added her own thoughts:
Toxic positivity denies reality. Fear, anger, sadness, depression, these all exist. Denying them instead of processing them as they happen (or soon after being triggered) is much worse for the mental health in the long run.
As I’ve argued in previous posts, hope can be one form of toxic positivity, quoting Linda Lehrhaupt:
… in itself having hope can be very satisfying. As long as we are focused on some future pleasant event, we don’t really have to be present in the here and now, or take care of things that come up or that we mess up.
One of the books I’m reading is Tadeusz Borowski’s Here in Our Auschwitz and Other Stories, based on his time there and in other camps. The narrator of one of his tales hits us in the face with the truths that Lehrhaupt points towards.
Do you think that were it not for the hope that that other world will come and the rights of man return, that we would survive in this camp for even a single day? It is hope that makes people go apathetically to the gas chambers, it makes them not risk rebellion, it entraps them in torpor. It is hope that severs family bonds, that makes mothers deny their children, makes wives sell themselves for bread and husbands kill people. It is hope that makes them struggle for every day of life because perhaps that very day will bring liberation. Oh, not even hope for another better world, but simply for a life in which there will be peace and rest. Never in human history has a stronger hope existed in man, but also never has it caused so much evil as in this war, as in this camp. We were not taught to relinquish hope, and that why we are perishing in the gas.
The other book I’m reading is All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, Rebecca Donner’s memoir of her great-aunt Mildred Harnack, who was beheaded on Hitler’s personal command for her work organizing German resistance to the Nazi regime. Just as being warm with someone in pain works better than lecturing that it will pass, Mildred showed us another way to find ease in difficult, dangerous times. The people in Mildred’s Circle had to dissemble or even deceive family and friends. They had to be wary at all times in case they were talking with or near some Gestapo informant, even a loved one. As a result, “the Circle’s members turn into anxious, paranoid people.” Mildred, however, didn’t “consider herself particularly anxious. … Her task is simple: to persuade as many Germans as possible to join the resistance.”
Be warm. Be easy. It’s that simple and that hard.