When life feels as if I’m a baby chicken pecking my way out of the egg before I suffocate or starve, don’t tell me that everything is okay. I am not helped by your attempts to make me to feel better about where I am. I need weaponry, not platitudes. The best weapon in the world is the truth.
I am not saying that confidence in the midst of the struggle is wrong or unhelpful, it is neither. I am not violently opposed to positive affirmations—saying to yourself over and over again things like “I’m going to make it through this,” or “I can do this,” or “My today is not my forever.”
What I am opposed to—because I believe it is both unhelpful and cruel—is to pretend that things aren’t bad when they are bad. I can’t get out of my bad if you insist on denying that’s where I am. Christopher Hitchens died last night of esophogeal cancer. His cancer was very bad, which you would have known if you’d seen a recent picture of him. It would have been wrong and cruel to send him a note saying “Don’t worry! Recite positive sayings to yourself as you look in the mirror and you’ll be through with that chemotherapy in no time! Don’t you worry about losing the use of your hands, there’s always voice activation software. Losing your voice you say? Well… Don’t worry! The battle isn’t over yet!” It is just as wrong and just as cruel for a motivational speaker to tell an audience that all they need to do is cry, and heal, and let’s do a group hug, and all will be well with their lives.
It’s not true.
We’re in a battle, not a hospital ward. We need ammunition, not an aspirin. Lying is not encouragement, and much of what passes for optimism is a lie.
We cannot move forward until we tell the truth. Let’s stop telling ourselves we can think ourselves positively out of the battle. It’s demeaning and demoralizing.
Next post: looking the truth in the eye and smiling.