My spiritual director thinks I’m too negative. I think she’s a nag. So, perhaps she’s onto something.
But, who can blame me for being so negative? Have you taken a good look at the world lately? Two costly wars continue to bankrupt our country, even though we’re supposed to be withdrawing from one of them. Unemployment numbers keep going up—down sometimes, but never enough to matter. Town hall meetings are like local Jerry Springer shows with people screaming about Nazis, socialism and how grandma will be taken out by professional government assassins as soon as she wheezes. Who can blame me for being negative?
In fact, I’m a typical American. Our country has a long, well-loved tradition of being pessimistic. We Americans are always ready to believe the worst about people, especially politicians. One’s on the take? No surprise. A morality cop cheated on his wife? What’s new? With another man? Yawn. Both Republicans and Democrats are bought and sold by the corporations they seek to regulate? They’re all crooks.
It’s why good news takes our breath away. It’s not so much man bites dog that shocks us, it’s when the man rescues the dog that warms our heart. We love animal rescue stories, but if the one being rescued is a drunk or a welfare mother, then, of course we’re back to being nattering nabobs of negativity. That derelict certainly didn’t deserve to be rescued, even if they have puppy dog eyes.
Even our spiritual lives are filled with the negative. We tell spiritual stories of good versus evil and we love them, and not just because our spiritual stories end with good triumphing. We love them because we get to revel in the evil while it’s around. We get to revile it. We get to talk about it like gossiping office workers at the water cooler. We get to feel like we’re part of it, even as we say we’re battling against it. We get to tell about how we’ll be redeemed and those we hate will be crispy fried in hell for their apostasy. Even our proselytizing reflects this negativity: “If you don’t accept Jesus, you’ll go to hell!” And, we say it with a hint of glee!
If it were not for the negative, we wouldn’t need our religion. That means the negative can sometimes be good for us, propelling us to do good in the world. But, sadly, more often than not, it becomes our focus—the place where we live—and we build our religion around what we’re against or who we hate instead of around a Prince of Peace who brings reconciliation and redemption. Negativity and fear work—every successful evangelist or terrorist will tell you that. Just ask Jesus—good news is a hard sell—and the angry mob will kill you for even uttering it.
A new poll confirms our love affair with the negative. A majority of people now believe all the negative myths about proposed health care reform measures.
- 67 percent of respondents believe that wait times for health care services, such as surgery, will increase (91 percent of Republicans, 37 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of Independents).
- About five out of 10 believe the federal government will become directly involved in making personal health care decisions (80 percent of Republicans, 25 percent of Democrats, 56 percent of Independents).
- Roughly six out of 10 Americans believe taxpayers will be required to pay for abortions (78 percent of Republicans, 30 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Independents)
- 46 percent believe reforms will result in health care coverage for all illegal immigrants (66 percent of Republicans, 29 percent of Democrats, 43 percent of Independents).
- 54 percent believe the public option will increase premiums for Americans with private health insurance (78 percent of Republicans, 28 percent of Democrats, 58 percent of Independents).
- Five out of 10 think cuts will be made to Medicare in order to cover more Americans (66 percent of Republicans, 37 percent of Democrats, 44 percent of Independents).
Now, it’s no shock to see that more Republicans than Democrats believe the lies about health care reform, since it’s those Republican-backed noise machines generating the negative stories. However, it’s distressing to see so many so-called Independents giving in to the negative talk. But, that’s how seductive the negative is to us mere mortals. We’re so ready to believe that any change will harm us or completely destroy us.
To fight this negativity within myself, my spiritual director recommended a workbook for something called “Dialectical Behavior Therapy.” Think of it as “The Secret” without the get-rich-quick schemes. One of the practices recommended by a DBT workbook is something called “radical acceptance.” Through this exercise you can, allegedly, get over being angry at a situation because whatever has made you angry has already happened and can’t be undone. It short, it’s a big cosmic, “get over it.” What’s done is done and you might as well buck up and accept it, kiddo, because sulking won’t change anything.
Okay, it uses more professional language than that, but you get the gist. As the book says, “Trying to fight this moment or say that it shouldn’t be only leads to more suffering for you.” So, practice radical acceptance by using “coping statements” like, “This is the way it has to be,” or “All the events have led up to now.”
One of the exercises it suggests to practice this skill of radical acceptance is to “read a controversial story in the newspaper without being judgmental about what occurred.” Wow. I don’t know about you, but that’s a tough one for me. I talk back to news on the radio or television and even grumble when I read a story in the paper or on the Web when I think there’s something wrong with the situation. Read without being judgmental? Radical acceptance is the first dang chapter. I’ll never make it through this workbook if that’s the first step!
The value of radical acceptance, however, is this: once you accept the reality of the situation and calm your emotions, you can better see your way out of it. Take the health care reform debate for example. Those of us who support health care reform need to stop complaining about the rabble rousers at town hall meetings and instead acknowledge that “all events have led up to now.” The question then becomes, what do we do about it?
Health care reform advocates believe that logic, reason, and the utter naked truth of the health care situation will win out if only we continue to repeat it and debunk the bunk. The problem with that is this: it simply doesn’t work. People like negativity. They like bumper sticker slogans and pithy logic. They like to believe that their life is literally on the line.
My proposal: Let’s out negative the naysayers. After all, we bailed out the banks because they kept screaming that we’d all die if we didn’t. Let’s do the same thing with health care. Let’s come up with some new negative slogans to scare people into believing we NEED reform or we’ll all die.
Let’s start with that one:
“Without health care reform, we’ll all die!!”
“Without health care reform, you’ll go broke!”
“Without health care reform, you’ll go to hell!”
“Without health care reform, insurance companies will kill your dog!”
“Insurance agents are really ninja assassins!”
“Insurance companies take your money and cancel your policy when you get sick!”
(Insert your slogan here)
Okay, perhaps they’re not as snappy as “the government will kill grandma,” but we need to come up with some really great negative, scare the hell out of people, slogans that advocate for reform. If we can’t convince people with reason, logic, and cold, hard reality that health care reform is in their best interest, then let’s appropriate our opponents’ tactics and scare them into it. If they fear for their lives or their wallets, you can bet Americans would clamor for universal health care. The truth is that their lives and their wallets are both in danger if we DON’T reform health care. So, if pro-reformers decide to go negative at least our negativity has one thing going for it that the negativity of reform opponents doesn’t: the truth. Now that’s radical, and I can accept it.