Boosterism’s Cousin, Toxic Positivity

In political life, boosterism is the overzealous promotion of officials or programs while ignoring actual conditions (particularly conditions of the disadvantaged). It’s wrong and repulsive.

(An acknowledgement worth making: I have never criticized boosterism because of a personal concern. My life is comfortable; objections to political boosterism are deep-seated in me as a matter of learning.)

Civilizations across the planet have for thousands of years expressed justified contempt for that which we, in our time, describe as boosterism. If boosters spent as much time reading books as looking in the mirror, then this understanding might reach them, too.

A cousin of political boosterism would be something like toxic positivity – the insistence and expectation that people should always see the world in a rosy way. From Voltaire’s Candide to Office Space’s parody of wearing pieces of flare, there are plentiful critiques of what we now describe as toxic positivity.

Allyson Chiu writes about contemporary experts’ critique of toxic positivity in Time to ditch ‘toxic positivity,’ experts say: ‘It’s okay not to be okay’:

“While cultivating a positive mind-set is a powerful coping mechanism, toxic positivity stems from the idea that the best or only way to cope with a bad situation is to put a positive spin on it and not dwell on the negative,” said Natalie Dattilo, a clinical health psychologist with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “It results from our tendency to undervalue negative emotional experiences and overvalue positive ones.”

Think of it as having “a few too many scoops of ice cream,” Dattilo said.

“It’s really good and it makes us feel better, but you can overdo it,” she said. “Then, it makes us sick.

“Or trying to shove ice cream into somebody’s face when they don’t feel like having ice cream,” she continued. “That’s not really going to make them feel better.”

With data indicating that anxiety and depression, among other mental health problems, have surged to historic levels in recent months, adding toxic positivity to the mix may only exacerbate the rising tide of negative emotions by preventing people from working through the serious issues they’re experiencing in a healthy way, experts say.

“By far the most common [phrase] is ‘It’s fine,’ ‘It will be fine,’ ” said Stephanie Preston, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. “You’re stating that there really isn’t a problem that needs to be addressed, period. You’re kind of shutting out the possibility for further contemplation.”

There’s still some political boosterism in the city, and – more generally – toxic positivity (where everything is awesome, even if it’s not).

There was much more of this view in Whitewater over a decade ago (esp., 2007-2009), and to the shame and disgrace of her officials back then many persisted in this view even during and after that era’s Great Recession.

Those officials were narrow of mind and small of heart. There’s no doubt that they thought well – very well – of themselves.

What a shame for them that thinking a thing doesn’t make it so.

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3 years ago

Right on the money. Whitewater back then was inches away from making city employees sing a company fight song it was so bad. So big on b.s. slogans. People joked about how city employees had to drink the kool aid. It’s still a problem but without the slogan crap. You mentioned a while back regular employees don’t speak at city meetings. They never will, half don’t care and the other half know what would happen. District is the bigger joke now. It’s all “AMAZING”. If they had a drinking game for AMAZING/INCREDIBLE/UNBELIEVABLE players would pass out.

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