Probably due to a conversation with my sister last week in which she mentioned that her favorite Halloween candy bar is Mounds, and I responded that Almond Joy is one of mine, I’ve had the maddening repetition of that two-line jingle in my head: “Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy’s got nuts, Mounds don’t.” (My deepest apologies if I’ve now passed that ear-worm on to you).
The song eventually transformed, through endless brain-loop, into: Sometimes you feel like a NOT.
And I thought: I sure do! A lot of the time, in fact. Frankly, my reaction to people and things, situations, requests, and news reports quite often occurs in the negative — no thank you; absolutely not; not I; not in a million years; hell, no…
Alas, such an authentic response frequently collides with cultural pressure to be positive and affirmative. Thus, many of us have adopted a knee-jerk agreeableness — the idea that it’s better to say YES, even if we don’t mean it. We’re supposed to lean into YES. Like it’s always better to seek agreement even when difference might actually move the conversation or relationship forward. Like our desire for happiness and harmony goal can only be achieved by emphasizing and chasing after good feelings, while minimizing or avoiding or ignoring the challenging ones.
Positivity can become even more of an unwavering imperative in progressive spirituality, where even the merest whiff of contrariness is silenced with stern efficiency.
Ernest Holmes offered a lovely vision — that it’s more powerful to be for something rather than against anything. And certainly this can be practiced with hope, excitement, and creativity. However, too frequently, there is a tendency to oversimplify this concept down into a one-line philosophy which makes it hard to exercise critical thinking and discernment without being accused of judgment, negativity, and divisiveness.
We do this weird thing where that the only acceptable negativity is the denial of anything that might sound negative — we double-negative it, magically making a positive! For heaven’s sake, it’s kind of ridiculous.
Because the truth is — sometimes you do feel like a NOT. Sometimes the answer really is NO.
And it seems to me that we’ve got to figure out a way — even as we stand for a positive and optimistic approach to life — to include NOs and NOTs in our self-concept and commitment to connection.
- NO and NOT create boundaries. This is healthy. This is necessary.
- NO and NOT can be expressions of gratitude. This is NOT that, thank God.
- NO and NOT can be tools with which we honestly reckon with ourselves and our feelings. Sometimes I argue with myself just to understand my own ambivalence and complexity. Thank God for complexity — thank God we’re NOT monolithic, we’re NOT always unanimously marching in lock-step.
- NO and NOT can awaken a call to do better, to grow and evolve, individually and together. It is very important to acknowledge when things are NOT working, NOT okay, NOT true… This is a key component of progress and harmony, not the opposite.
You know, basically I’m an optimist. Really, I am. Most of the time I believe wholeheartedly in myself, in humanity, and the future. I understand that it matters what and how we think about things, and I do try to avoid negativity when it’s not helpful or useful.
So I have every intention to be positive and affirming, to be inviting and inclusive. I’m also offering that sometimes this is best expressed as: ABSOLUTELY NOT!
I can’t wait to see you this Sunday, November 3. Service at 10:00 am, at Bosque Center for Spiritual Living. XO, Drew
© 2019 Drew Groves