The dark side of the positivity myth

Shane Clifton wrote an insightful article on disability and the dark side of the positivity myth. Shane had a serious accident four years ago that left him a quadriplegic. We should all hear his reflections on the positivity myth.

I would suggest everyone to read the whole article. But here are some examples of his insights.

The positivity myth has found its way into every sector of Australian (and global) society. It is the standard fodder of the self-help industry, shapes political ideologies and informs our cultural values, and as such, it is celebrated in every medium of popular culture (television, film, music and the like).

The problem isn’t positivity per se, but its object. It’s one thing to make the effort to develop positive character traits and virtues (hopefulness, self-control, courage, patience, generosity), but another thing altogether to continue to propagate the lie that believing an impossible goal will necessarily bring it about – with its corollary implication: if you don’t succeed, you mustn’t have exercised sufficient faith and determination. Virtue, rather than positivity, should be our goal.

In its application to disability, the positivity myth is an attempt to tame and control the bodies and minds of people whose lives we don’t understand, and so fear. We celebrate only those who are able to transform themselves into our image – our normality – free from their disability. We want to believe that unyielding faith will cure cancer, determined effort will overcome the limits of cerebral palsy, strength of will can enable the quadriplegic to walk again, because we can’t imagine that it’s possible to live well in the midst of suffering, sickness and disability.

Source: Accessed on 18th September 2014

Dr Shane Clifton is Dean of Theology at Alphacrucis College.

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