Honesty vs. Positivity: An Intellectual Battle
“Every time you get rejected from something, you’re actually getting redirected to something better.” My mood immediately perked up the first time I read this quote. It is a comforting thought, especially when I do not get something I want. It fills me with hope that maybe it’s for the better. As the old Jewish adage from the Talmud goes, Gam Zu L’tova, this too is for the best. For a while, I too adopted the perspective of everything is for the best. While this perspective is comforting, it is not always helpful.
However, life experience and honest reflection forced me to reconsider if I truly believed that this was really true. Is everything really for the best? I can think of many examples where I did not end up “better,” or at least better the way I define the word. Sure, I will never know what would have happened in that alternative timeline, but I cannot honestly ignore the possibility that my life could have been better than the way it actually turned out. Critical thinkers do not just accept what has been presented. So too, I, as a critical thinker, cannot accept “Gam Zu L’Tova” at face value. I must assess, evaluate, and consider alternatives based on logic and reasoning above my initial emotional reactions.
On the other hand, sometimes it is better to go with the simple approach—everything is simply for the best, no questions asked. To critically assess everything sacrifices the enjoyable simplicity of life. Sometimes we just want to watch a movie to enjoy it, not to analyze it. Or we are in a bad mood and simple quotations, like the one above, lift our spirits. Being positive is a constructive value for psychological health, peer interactions, and success. How can I balance my desire to be an honest, critical thinker with my being a positive person? To be a critic is to point out the flaws; to be positive is to ignore them and focus on the good. Should I be a critic or a positivist?
The ideal is to be both. The perfect person would keep track of all the good and bad points, make a pros and cons list, and come up with an overall judgment based on every aspect. This person might annoy friends at the movies—they probably just want to enjoy the movie, not to analyze it. But then “haters will be haters;” we are trying to be critical humans here. Critical analysis is vital to the human experience.
Unfortunately, humans are not always like that. We cannot keep track of and evaluate every single detail. Additionally we tend to focus on the negative when we make judgments. But focusing on the negative is not being truly honest either. Just as nothing is perfect, so too nothing is void of any redeeming qualities. Part of being a critical thinker is to also notice positive elements.
A potential starting point to balance these two values is to at least be cognizant of this dilemma. Cognizance of this dilemma provides us with an invaluable rule-of-thumb for resolving this tension. For those times when we would tend to just accept things and not try to analyze them, we should focus more on the value of honesty and critical thinking. And for those times when we tend to critique, it may be worthwhile to force ourselves to focus on the positive elements too. We should always try to take an approach against our natural inclinations.
The challenge is to stay positive while being realistic. “I am not a pessimist; I am just a realist,” my friends tell me. If we are critical thinkers, optimism and realism don’t need to be mutually exclusive. Humans are nuanced enough to incorporate both of these values. So when we read uplifting snippets, like the quotation above, we can allow its optimism to influence our well-being, while at the same time taking note of its exceptions. We should do this every time we evaluate things, from the mundane movie to important political opinions.
Your first opportunity is to evaluate this article.