Within our society there is a prevailing belief system that some of us follow with near-religious commitment. It’s the belief that positivity is fundamental to emotional stability, that with a positive mental attitude we can overcome, or at very least numb ourselves to, a majority of life’s challenges.
When misfortune materialises – a relationship ended, a job lost, an illness discovered – the go-to response toward another person is a mix of empathy and sympathy. We clearly connect with the wider landscape of what emotional or physical loss means, its impact on one’s life and the difficult prospects involved in moving forward. For a time, we share the disappointment or the grief, even going so far as to view those who do not as insensitive or inhuman. Our judgement of those not following protocol with a society-approved reaction can be harsh and fast.
When bad things happen, the rule is that we acknowledge them as such, that we spend a little time reflecting the victim’s own emotion. It’s only when this symbiosis has reached its peak, and our personal threshold for compassion is near, that things begin to shift. It’s the time when we feel like another’s grief has become too much, that the wallowing is enough now, that it must be exorcised or, at a minimum, begin to share its space with something new. And what would this new thing be? Likely an upward plight toward the brighter side.
Positivity, it would appear, is a required next step after we are dealt any kind of blow. We may temporarily spiral down but when we’re through the rule is that we rise as high as we can, beaten and damaged, but hopefully as close to the other end of the spectrum possible.
To stop negativity turning into a slow and brooding toxicity, we are taught that we must be able to see, or even better feel, a future where we have moved from drowning, to waving and maybe even to swimming. We must claim the attitude of positivity even if one is really begging on bended knee at the altar of hope. Negativity is viewed as a place of darkness, weakness, helplessness. We are repelled so much by it that we not only avoid it in others but hide and deny it in ourselves. We have hard limits on it, not so much because it’s contagious but because it’s sticky. It coats the surface of everything, and us humans are porous beings.
What we don’t hear so much about is neutrality. This fence of middle ground has had a bad rap and can make people on either side feel uncomfortable. Neutrality is confused with coldness, indecision, a lack of education or intellect. When it arises in the emotional space, people are unnerved by another’s lack of emotional abandon or expression. People in the positive or negative camps need boxes, they require hard edges from which to bounce their own need to be right, or effectively challenged.
But the thing about neutrality is that it’s fertile ground, as fertile – if not more so – than positivity. It is the ground of control, of reference, of stability. It is a place where one can respond to life with measurement, unbound to the expectation or bias of what should occur. Sure, one can still have desires and hopes, but the emotions are steady. The scales are balanced and still. Truth, and not safety or community, is the resting place of neutrality.
People who consciously enter situations from a neutral standpoint often have the best view of the field. They are not leaning one way, or the other. Their direction is not tied to a position they are trying to maintain, not identified with a cause or community that exists only to be against or for something. With neutrality, a summary of events means only ignorance and so instead, the full picture is sought. The neutral person or facts may not have the expanse of highs and lows, may not express themselves with the same levels of joy or sadness, but the lack of a show does not mean the stage is empty. Neutrality waits, until there is enough of whatever it needs, and then it moves – sometimes in a direction only visible from up high on that fence.
The next time someone suggests that you think more positively, or that you expect more definitive behaviours and responses from another person, take a step back. Is there an alternative option available? Consider whether you truly need to immediately decide how you feel or what you think about something. Whose rule is it that you must commit to one end of the spectrum? Who does this really serve, yourself or others?