If you’re like me, we often say things without thinking.
No, I’m not referring to the verbal blunders that follow us seemingly forever. I’m referring to the phrases we say automatically as part of our everyday social contact.
Nice / Awful / Weird weather we’ve been having …
Like discussions about the weather (perfect for awkward elevator discussion with people you don’t really know but are standing way too close to for way too long), there are more phrases we don’t really think about than we realize.
A perfectly polite question is to ask a person how they are … to which they respond “fine”, “okay”, “fabulous” or “tired”, “busy”, “overwhelmed”.
A perfectly polite response is to nod understandingly.
And that’s it … except the other day that’s not the response I got.
The person told me they were at the end of their rope and I probably didn’t want to get involved. I hesitated. They were right. But, being the contrarian I am, I stepped closer and assured them that if they wanted to get into it I would listen … and listen I did.
The one thing I didn’t do was tell them to “stay positive”.
All of which brings me to my current question: What is with the phrase “stay positive”?
We often tell people to stay positive, stay strong. I know I’ve said it myself. But I’ve been re-evaluating the phrase because something about it bothers me. Something about it feels like a cop-out. What happens when there isn’t anything to be positive about? Okay, maybe that’s just too dark, so let’s hold that thought for now. Trust me, I’ll come back to it.
I know we mean well when we say it, but is there a time it’s just plain irrelevant? Is there a time when being positive is even contrary to what is needed at the time? Sometimes a person just needs to gather the necessary facts in order to plot a course of action … in any aspect of their life, even their healthcare.
At the time, we don’t need or want positivity. We need answers. We want options.
Case in point: I’m waiting on some results for next steps in taking care of my health. Fact is I don’t really want to think too much on what happens next. We don’t have enough information. So, when people ask me how I am, I hesitate.
Like the person I met, I’m not sure how much they want to know … how much they want to get involved … and I don’t want to be told to stay positive. I realize it’s the polite thing to say when we don’t know what else to say.
I still don’t want to hear it because quite simply I don’t have time to be “positive”.
Okay, the thing is, for me at least, remaining positive requires a lot of energy. It’s not that I have so much negativity or anything … far from it actually. It’s just that I consider myself a careful resource manager of my own energy. Consequently, I invest carefully. Thoughtfully. Deliberately.
You could say being positive has absolutely nothing to do with what I’m doing right now.
So what am I doing?
I’m focused … engaged in my healthcare … like nobody’s business. And, I can tell you being positive has nothing to do with it. Not jumping to conclusions. Not jumping to immediate worry or panic. Not jumping to decisions just to be doing something, anything.
But also not being distracted being positive …
I’m not trying to be rude, but neither do I want to avoid exchanges and conversations with people around me. What I’m trying to do is give a glimpse into the darkness for both sides to consider next time they attempt to engage in an exchange about how they are doing.
Sometimes, it isn’t about being positive for either person.
Sometimes, it’s about listening and really talking about what’s happening.
Sometimes, it’s about being engaged in the conversation, the person.
I like to tell people be careful what you ask, you may just get it. I’m not saying if you don’t want to know, don’t ask, but I am saying consider carefully: Do you want to use one of the polite, stock, trite phrases we all use when we don’t know what to say?
There’s nothing wrong with admitting you don’t know what to say.
There’s nothing wrong with asking direct questions about what I’m doing … or why.
There’s nothing wrong with telling me you can’t get into it with me.
I’m focused on being an engaged patient and that takes all my energy. Make a conscious decision to get involved … or not … because otherwise it’s all just being polite.