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The Pervasive Folly of Toxic Positivity

The human design is an efficient one when it comes to emotions – we don’t have any useless ones. Whether you like or dislike the feeling you’re experiencing, you’re feeling it for a reason.


We feel fear when in the company of a dangerous driver because fear’s job is to keep us safe.


We feel sadness when somebody we love passes away so that sadness can remind us how important family and friends are.


And we feel shame when we fall short or blunder – socially, academically and even physically – because shame is the teacher. Shame’s job is to ensure we correct course, make amends and listen to our conscience.


All three feel different kinds of rotten, but all three would be just as horrible to go through life without.


There are too many schools these days implementing ways of managing wellbeing, mental health and behaviour that seek to eliminate, delegitimise or deny negative feelings. They’re doing it to their own detriment.


This, mostly progressive, toxic positivity trend concerns me. The game isn’t the elimination negative feelings and schools shouldn’t be plastic happiness factories.


A better game is building young people who’ve habitualised productive responses to emotions that are both useful and unpleasant.


Instead of asking young people not to be sad, angry or remorseful, we should be helping them to recognise or name their current emotion. They can then learn to authentically thank it for showing up just when it was time for it to do its job.


Our job, together with our students, is then to resolve that negative emotion, rather than pour pointless energy into pretending it’s not there.


Keep fighting that good fight,


PS. It’s not easy being a teacher these days is it? I’m running teacher training workshops in every state and territory across Australia. Hobart, Melbourne and Brisbane are coming up in just a few weeks so make sure you check them out and sign up soon!

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