It was a phone call that I still remember. I expected to hear bubbly, happy, and positive tones. Instead it was the one time I heard my son whine, and it changed the way I look at life.
A Happy, Happy Kid
My oldest son Joseph has always been a happy kid. He was ready to have fun and enjoy whatever came his way. He was adaptable to any situation and made it into a wonderful time.
As he grew up, he continued to be the same positive person.
“How was your day, son?”
“It was great, dad!”
I knew that he expected the best out of life and decided that it’s always best to attack life with the same positive attitude. That’s why the one time I heard my son whine, I froze. I knew something was wrong.
Pain that Wouldn’t Stop
Joseph needed braces, and went with his mom one day to have them put on. That night I spoke with him over the phone and his tone was anything but positive.
He was whiny and sad, completely understandable, but so unexpected. Here my rock of positivity was reduced to frustration and disappointment. The dull pain had just been relentless and he couldn’t get past how awful it was. It was the one time I heard my son whine, and it told me that he was really in pain.
It also showed me something else.
The Limits of Positive Thinking
Joseph has a very supportive family. This isn’t to say his life has been all sunshine and unicorns. He’s had to deal with the divorce of his parents and some abusive interactions in his life. Still he’s maintained a positive outlook.
However, even the strongest of us is only as strong as what can break us. Some people believe that you can positively think your way out of anything. Often these people don’t realize how easy their life is.
Positive thinking is easy if your life is mostly downhill, no matter how much time and effort you put into it. But when you’re always pedaling uphill, you eventually need a break. At some point, there will be a hill so steep you have to walk.
Telling someone to “just be positive” or “If you just did x you could overcome your situation” shows an extreme lack of concern about what a person is going through and may say more about your privilege than their situation.
Take a Step Back
The one time I heard my son whine, I knew something had broken him. I knew that even a super positive person has a breaking point.
Too often we assume that everyone has the same problems that we do. We think that our lives are indicative of everyone else’s lives. We are oblivious to our privilege, and it shows.
The other day I saw a post on Twitter that encapsulates this idea:
The Challenge of a Positive Attitude
Just because something doesn’t affect us, doesn’t mean other’s aren’t affected. Just because we can have a positive attitude doesn’t mean other people can. Some people are in pain, afraid for their lives, discriminated against, and simply abused.
We all have a breaking point. Maybe others have already passed theirs. Instead of condemning them, we need to listen and fight, not for our privilege, but for those that don’t have it.
The one time I heard my son whine I knew it was his circumstances and not his attitude that was the culprit. Why don’t we extend that same expectation to others?