Optimism in the dark places



Sometimes, people who want to see themselves as optimistic say things like this to suffering people they encounter:

  • “Look on the bright side!”
  • “Cheer up!”
  • “It can’t be that bad!”
  • “It’s ok.”
  • “Smile, you’ll feel better!”
  • “You have so much to be grateful for.”

Sometimes people who say this kind of thing mean well, but it’s still degrading. It’s degrading because:

  • Sometimes things really are that bad
  • Refusing to acknowledge that doesn’t help anything
  • And when you try to insist to someone who is going through something awful that it can’t be as bad as they think, what you’re really doing is refusing to listen to them
  • Telling someone to shut up is neither kind nor optimistic

This is particularly the case if you’re talking to someone in a bad situation that is unlikely to get better, or which is at least unlikely to get better in the near future eg:

  • Someone who has a terminal illness
  • People who are facing systemic oppression of a kind that isn’t going to go away in their lifetime
  • Someone who is trapped in an abusive relationship they see no way out of

I think that there’s another kind of optimism that is much more helpful:

  • Acknowledge that things really are that bad
  • Don’t try to smooth them over
  • Identify things that make life worth living
  • Work on building and recognizing love (including, love people enough to acknowledge how bad things are without pressuring them to sanitize them for you)

antiquemouse said:

“It’s okay” can be used as “it’s okay to cry, it’s okay to scream at me, it’s okay to talk about this” but otherwise, yes to all of this.

(Keep in mind that I say that from the point of view of someone who  frequently apologizes for crying or talking and has friends who do likewise, and therefore it may not be accurate in all situations.)

realsocialskills said:

Yes, that is absolutely true. There is a form of “it’s ok” that means “reassure me that it’s ok”, and there’s a form that means “it’s ok for you to acknowledge that things are awful and I will listen and respect you”.