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Stop being so positive



Emily Blunt is sweating. She’s hanging from a harness in an exosuit. The straps are pressing into her groin. It’s very uncomfortable. After a while she feels the pain radiating into her upper body. The space they’re shooting the scene in is tiny. The camera guys are literally bumping into each other and Emily and Tom Cruise are waiting there, hanging from harnesses in the middle of a dark box, feeling the heat throughout their bodies.

Emily whispers to Tom Cruise: “It sucks.”

Tom Cruise pauses, breathes and says: “Yes, it’s a challenge.”

To which Emily Blunt responds in a louder voice: “No! It sucks!”

I’m sure you’ve witnessed a conversation between an unstoppable optimist and somebody who loves expressing their discomfort.

I’m more of the whining type myself, and I’ve had to learn to reframe my inner talk to respond to external “challenges” more positively. I’ve seen the value of not letting my brain go into constant complaint mode and instead embracing each moment as it comes, but I’m not going to lie – this is still a work in progress.

But this time, let me make a plea for Emily, because I’m concerned that the culture of positivity can become a new type of indoctrination.

I’m concerned that we may be succumbing to the temptation of creating a culture of complacency and silence for fear of being seen as not positive or constructive enough.

There’s a difference between empathically addressing an issue and trying to cover it up with positive words.

It’s called toxic positivity when some people are not allowed to express how they feel about racism or sexism, about human rights violations, about climate change inaction.

Reasonableness and positivity are sometime imposed on people to silence their voices. It’s used on women who’ve suffered domestic violence in courtrooms and black people protesting about police brutality.

It feels as if we’re asking them to suffer in silence, to be reasonable about it, because we don’t want to see that we have a role in this injustice ourselves – we are good people after all.

Carrying positivity as a badge of honour can be toxic. So many people don’t have that luxury. They have to fight for their rights, raise their voices and protest to get half the rights that many of us enjoy.

Positivity is not about covering up what’s wrong and silencing others but rather making an empathic contribution to create a change that will benefit us all.

I can’t help liking how Emily Blunt responded to Tom Cruise.

Probably Tom’s experience wasn’t the same as Emily’s at the time. She might have had her period and the last thing she wanted was tight straps in her groin. And to be fair, she was probably being paid half or even less what Tom was making for the movie.

I think Tom could have been really positive, saying something like : “I know it sucks, Emily, especially when you’re hanging here in pain and making half what I make for the same job. Maybe this is something we need to address right after finishing this scene because I agree, it really sucks.”

So thanks, Emily, for reminding me that how we feel and what we see matters, even if Tom Cruise doesn’t want to hear it.


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