I am a conscientious person.
Everything I read, I take with a grain of salt. I recycle. I try to be balanced in my diet, but I don’t let counting calories govern my life. I am shamelessly optimistic, but my Type A personality keeps me constantly on my toes with a healthy dose of realism.
I am the first person to enter into a conflict over the appropriate labels in the LGBTQ community. I play devil’s advocate in conversations regarding immigration, abortion and gay marriage because as much as my liberal heart yearns to attack the opposition, I know at its root, the biggest challenge modern progress faces is closed-mindedness.
I want to hear both sides.
I am fully aware that I do not have all the answers. I want to be more educated. And so I read. I am continually inundated by social media articles—most of which I actually agree with—but what I find most concerning is how saturated they are with negativity.
Below is a random sampling of article titles, all claiming that I should take negative action:
“6 Things New Parents Need to Stop Doing Before They Lose Their Minds”
“18 thing women need to stop doing to each other”
“The 20 Mistakes You Don’t Want To Make In Your 20s”
“30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself”
“How to Avoid Unnecessary Drama in Your Life”
“5 Things That Don’t Belong In Your Bed”
“You Need To Stop What You’re Doing And Watching This Dog Walk On A Treadmill”
“What Should You Not Be For Halloween?”
“What Not To Say About Food At Thanksgiving”
“10 Lies to Stop Telling Yourself About Your Career”
“11 Common Mistakes In Relationships That You Can Avoid”
To be clear, I do not disagree with much of the claims and messages of these articles. I do not dispute one should avoid unnecessary drama, or look out for signs of an unhealthy relationship.
I also concede that some of this negative action circulating in social media articles is intended to elicit comedic and lighthearted responses. However, I cannot help but notice how these plethora of commands to “avoid” or “stop” or “do not” do very little to help the reader achieve their intended goals.
Telling a parent what not to do, will not help that parent learn what they can actually do to be a good parent. Avoiding drama in your life will not ensure you know what it looks like when you have healthy and safe confrontations. Not telling lies to yourself about your career won’t help you face the cold and hard truths your career challenges you with on a day to day basis. I could go on forever.
I won’t tell people to stop writing these negative articles. That would seem to defeat the point of my article entirely. But what I will say, with some measure of confidence, is that the world needs more positive action. And we all could use some help in our pursuit of these positive goals.
I trained for six years as an actor, and while I’ve learned a great deal about how to approach a character and become vulnerable, the greatest lesson I have learned is that one cannot pursue negative intention. Or rather, you can, but your result will be the precise thing you are trying to avoid.
For those of you who are non-theatre type folks (who my friends and I lovingly refer to as muggles) here is an example:
Someone approaches you and tells you this: “Do not think of Elephants.” What is the first thing you think of? Elephants. Let’s take this a step further and apply it to acting. An actor is portraying a character in a particular state, let’s say they are to play intoxicated. One of the easiest ways to approach this is to focus on a positive intention like: I will walk in a straight line or I will speak in clear speech. Often a person’s attention to walking and speaking will highlight their inconsistencies—the person will wobble as they walk, and the speaker will more than likely slur a word or two.
This is so important, because as an actor, we are re-creating, with great honesty what the character is attempting. A drunk person isn’t trying to be drunk, they are trying to be sober. If an actor plays to “avoid messing up” they will in all likelihood make a mistake. Focusing on avoidance or negative intention usually results in the thing we are trying to avoid.
This is all well and good for the actor but why should this matter to the rest of the world? I will let you in on a secret: to act is to be human.
It is to interact, respond, and pursue goals in given situations as authentically as possible. So when anyone leads off their parenting, their twenties, or their career in a pursuit of negative intention or avoidance, she is likely running head first into the things she doesn’t want, or at the very least, unable to latch on to the experiences she does want.
This type of reasoning has been a message of motivational speakers and how to books for years. Set yourself a positive goal, and pursue it.
I cannot stress enough how many obstacles we face every day as we go about our lives. Don’t we have enough people telling us what not to do? Don’t we have enough media telling us to stop behaving a certain way or to avoid eating something?
Even if an oracle from the heavens could guarantee that every piece of this well-meaning advice was true, how on earth could that advice help me to find all of the things I do want? I know fairly well enough not to stay in a relationship that makes me feel unsafe. I know to avoid eating foods high in trans fat. And I know I should probably stop making excuses for not being further in my career.
But where I really need help, what I would love to read more about in online articles, are all the ways I can make a positive difference. What I can do to make my relationship stronger? What I can do to get the most out of my twenties? What I can do to become a better parent (when the time comes)?
Do you see where I am going with this?
If we could all for one instant set aside that judging deconstructive part of ourselves long enough to open our hearts and listen to these positive intentions, we might actually for once discover how to reach conclusions to these insurmountable questions.
So this is my call to action—not just to writers—but to anyone who is a sister, a brother, a mother, a father, a son, a daughter, a lover or a friend to someone. Rather than focusing on all of the should not’s and avoid’s, and all of the don’t’s, let’s try to actually be of help—not only for the benefit of those that rely so heavily on our support and advice, but for ourselves.
Let’s try and focus on what would help us reach our goal. Let’s talk about all the alternatives. Let’s create options. Let’s discuss what can be done. And maybe, just maybe something will actually happen that isn’t just the absence of what we wish to avoid, but rather the presence of the thing we actually want.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Clare Lopez
Editor: Catherine Monkman