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June 26, 2019

Why we need to Outright Ban this “Good Vibes Only” B.S.


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Good vibes only.

The message is everywhere these days, or so it seems—the bumper sticker on my neighbor’s Subaru, printed across T-shirts as I’m walking downtown, decorating yoga gear, and declared in hashtags throughout Instagram bios.

To some, it may appear like a peace flag waving in a breeze of positivity.

But it elicits in me the same sensation as fingernails on a chalkboard.

Back when I was immersed in Christian culture, we had our own versions of “good vibes only,” more implied than spoken. We could admit to struggles, sorrows, and fears, as long as we didn’t stray from the path of faith.

Jesus served as our own personal “good vibes only,” tacked on the end of our darker human condition. Angry? Jesus will help you forgive and let go. Heartbroken? Jesus will comfort and mend your heart. Doubtful? Jesus will draw you back to faith. Jealous? Jesus will convict you of sin and forgive you. Lost? Jesus will show you the way. Sick? Jesus will heal you. Lonely? Jesus is all you need.

At some point, there didn’t seem to be enough space for my humanity in this way of dealing with life in all its complex shades. I had experiences that needed to be heard, questions that needed to sit without answers, growth that no longer fit within these “as long as” conditions.

And so I left it all for the great unknown, and I have never looked back with regret.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when I then encountered the secular version of that mentality I’d left behind with religion.

At a glance, this idea of “good vibes only” seems, well, positive. And people seem to love their positivity as much as they love their latest fad diet or whole foods smoothie.

On closer inspection, though, what this small phrase is advocating is rejection.

The phrase is less a flag and more a neon sign flashing above the door of a building, saying:

“All are welcome here, except—

The mentally ill.
The grieving.
The wounded.
The confused.
The lonely.
The weary.
The anxious.
The angry.
The scared.
The battered.
The realistic.
The empathic feelers.
The daring conversation starters.
The advocates raising social awareness. 

Stuff it all inside and put on your happy face, because here, only good vibes are allowed.”

I’ve seen people call this mentality “protecting my energy” or “staying positive,” but what this really does is cut us off from the fullness of our humanity and the humanity of others. It insulates us from pain. It shortchanges our potential for growth, our empathy, our compassion. It keeps us and the world small and palatable.

When “good vibes only” people get angry with others for posting things on social media that are disturbing, or hard to watch or read, they unfollow and their world gets safer.

I feel the silence emanating when I post things of this nature: raising awareness about the treatment of animals within the agricultural industry, speaking of climate change and its impacts, sharing the stories of others who are suffering (animal or human), or simply sharing stories from my journey that are not snapshots of happiness.

Not everyone’s communication style or personality is going to be our cup of tea, and that’s 100 percent okay. Letting more than good vibes through the door of our lives doesn’t mean we don’t have boundaries. It doesn’t mean we can’t choose to filter out the ones who only want to complain, the ones who maliciously attack others, the ones who take and take without giving back, the ones who only want to share disturbing content for shock value, or the ones whose energy does actually do nothing but drain us.

But there’s a difference between practicing self-care (e.g., limiting how much news we read or watch) and outright rejection of information and people who challenge us to feel, to think, to listen, to sit in discomfort, to look at the world differently, and to take action.

Large portions of life do not fit within the construct of “good vibes only.”

Marriages would never last if they were required to only have good vibes. Parents would bail on their kids. Friendships would be one-dimensional. Activists would never rise up and demand justice. Rebels would never defy the status quo. Movements would never be started. Stigmas would never be called out for what they are. Racism would continue unchecked. Victims of abuse would continue to be silent. Violence against animals would never be brought before our eyes, asking us to make a connection between what we eat and the greater cost.

And on a more intimate level, we wouldn’t know the great privilege of walking and sitting with each other through seasons of darkness.

We’d only really know the Netflix n’ chill, let’s-grab-margaritas, high-on-yoga-class, inspirational quotes kind of relationships. As fun as these things are, they aren’t a full course of life. They’re just an appetizer.

I’d like to ask the “good vibes only” people, what are we really protecting ourselves from?

For those willing to strip down to the flesh of life with courage, I say, all our vibes are welcome. Let’s be brave, let’s be better, let’s be authentic, and let’s be fully human—together.


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