Forcing the bright makes the darkness even darker
Updated: Jul 27
In a brilliant Christmas episode of the hit tv-series Community, our group of students reaches the conclusion that trying to force everyone to smile during the darkest time of year, makes our dark feelings even more pronounced. In this time of worldwide crisis I felt a strong need to emphasize this and again tell you: it's okay to feel bad in these incredibly stressful moments. Admitting to this can help you find the light. Yet this article isn't just addressed to you. It is especially addressed to those who are not connecting with how bad things really are. Those in denial of reality.
There are few things more hurtful to someone who is not feeling all to well, than to see people being bright. This of course, cannot be helped. Even though you may be feeling stressed and anxious, not everyone is, and you can't blame people for feeling good if they are doing well during this crisis. Chances are you'll even smile a little, thinking that at least some people out there feel okay. That's a relief. There is however, an exception: when that lightness is forced upon us and has no basis in reality. So, I'm going to hit two birds with one blog: help those who need guidance right now, and tell those who are missing the point, to tome the fuck down.
I'll start with those in need. In this world crisis moment, the differences between those that are okay in their health, jobs and lives, versus those that are losing their livelihoods are becoming much, much bigger. A large portion of us is struggling and fighting for their lives, jobs and families. The damage is enormous and we need help from each other to recover for a long time to come. My message to you is simple: reach out and build a help team. Talk to all of us who are still doing all right and ask for our help. It is okay to be vulnerable right now. In fact, it never has been more okay than right now. It can even be a chance.
Yet while this crisis is going on, we are also seeing a lot of people who are making the best of it. This is fine too. No argument here. But there is a limit on how bright you should be. And how forceful you try to get your point across. Think of it as Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or any comparable holiday: if you run around with glee, telling everybody just how wonderful it all is, promoting fake news because you are bored and angry, or saying you don't understand what all the fuss is about (a small flu?), you're hurting people deeply. It shows you have no empathy and cannot accept reality.
This goes for interpersonal, but also for public communication. Brightness is a great antidote to these times and I'm not asking you to drop it all together. What I'm saying is that you might want to adjust your antennas and really pick up on the hurt. The best way to use your brighter position is to help others and be understanding. You can smile, make jokes, be sarcastic... it all helps, just as long as you stay firmly in the current context. Don't project.
As someone who has suffered and recovered, I need to get this off my chest: nothing is more unemphatic as to show you cannot connect with those in mental stress. It makes you look like an utter, heartless fool, even if you really aren't. Plus, your gleefulness accomplishes the opposite: it makes the darkness even darker. If you want more brightness, start by acknowledging the negative around you. Accept reality as is. And work with light from there.
To the rest of us, use the articles on these pages to find solutions to your stresses and anxieties. Reach out, there have never been more people wanting to help. And try to shake off the conspiracy theories and people who are projecting their petty emotions or their glee. Send them this article if need be.
It's not you, it's they who have a real problem. You are stressed. Understandably so. But they? They are in denial of a very real world challenge, fueled by biology, climate change and economics, that affects our entire society. And they are in denial of you.
So ignore the fools, their time is passing as we speak. We'll climb out together.
Stay safe. If you want to know more about anxiety, depression and overcoming stress or burnout, of course you check out my book Restart.
And as always, love.
Rogier van Kralingen