How Do You Stay Positive In The Wake Of Tragedy? You Act.

This morning, many of us woke up to news of a mass shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada that left more than 50 people dead and upwards of 400 injured. The gunman was 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, a man whose motive remains unclear, and who was found amidst at least 10 guns in his hotel room from where he shot attendees of an outdoor concert. It is frustrating, heartbreaking, maddening, and entirely not new. America’s storied history with mass shootings continues to affirm that empty sentiments rank above gun control legislation, and that the lives of shooting victims pales in comparison to the power of the NRA.

It’s almost impossible to feel positive about anything, let alone the future of American citizens at the hands of a government that doesn’t seem to care about them. So how do you do it?

You don’t.

Positivity is a powerful thing. Positivity fuels hope, it inspires change, and it prevents us all from collapsing in on ourselves. It is important, and it can be a life raft. But sometimes, it’s also impossible. Sometimes, you have to look at a situation, accept that it is bleak and dire and grim, and then use anger or frustration to act. It can — and probably will get — worse. Unless you do something.

I like to think of myself as a positive person. (At least sometimes.) I believe many people are good, but I also believe many people are not, and I prefer to err on the side of “assume a lot of powerful people are the worst” as opposed to assuming they will do the right thing. Especially when the Trump administration has proven that they will not do the right thing. They didn’t do it in Puerto Rico, they will not do it by tightening legislation on assault weapons.

To sit back and think positively — to assume that “positive” changes will be made in the wake of tragedy is naive. It relies on trust I know a lot of us don’t have anymore. It’s also lazy. Telling ourselves that “things will get better” is an easy sentiment to make when sitting back and hoping that someone, somewhere will fix it all. They won’t. Any sense of positivity at this point needs to be poured into action, topped with the assumption that unless you act and do, it won’t get done.

Which I know sounds bleak. It’s lonely to think that change relies on you, and more importantly, on you doing things. It can be overwhelming to think that you, who may live in Canada, away from America, has to do something outside the realm of thoughts and prayers; that you have to contact your own MPs to urge them to condemn US gun legislature, to ask their stance on gun control in Canada, to donate to victims’ funds, to educate yourself on how gun control works in America, to seek out ways of acting (ranging from letter-writing to phone calls to cash donations) that exist outside of mere sentiments, to share information responsibly.

But the alternative to you acting — to you swallowing that sense of “oh man, this feels like too much” — is more of the same. More shootings, more tragedy, more heartbreak, more anger. Positivity is useful only when used in conjunction to action. Otherwise, it is as empty as the President’s “warmest sympathies.”

As the world changes, so must our definition of words and ideas. To urge everyone to stay positive at this point is empty. It’s insulting. It’s important to feel what’s going on; to acknowledge the realities of our governments and of the world and of social inequalities and of ineffective gun control. It is important to acknowledge that these things are terrible and that it feels like the world is burning, because then you can move on from that moment and begin to act — to tweak your definition of positivity to “let’s be positive — it will get better!” to “fuck this, it’s not over ’til it’s over.” Because it isn’t. And if everyone who came before us failed to acknowledge how terrible everything felt, history would look a lot different.

You can still feel joy. You can still do things that make you happy. But to not feel positive or happy is fine and okay and necessary. It’s okay to get angry and to rally yourself into becoming a person who acts and who debates and discusses or shares. It’s okay to acknowledge how shit everything feels and instead of telling yourself that somehow it will get better, you decide to help make it better since doing nothing will only make it worse. But to be positive — to be someone who errs on the side of rose-coloured glasses or the assumption that it will all work out — is a luxury we don’t have anymore. For now, all we can be positive about is that we will take the necessary steps to usher in change to the best of our ability. Because passivity and thoughts and prayers and hopes and sympathies are useless now. Of that I’m positive.


Tags: Anne T. Donahue

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