“Oh surely not!”, I hear you cry in consternation, as your eyebrows shoot up into your forehead and you shake your head in disagreement, “Everyone knows it should be positive thinking! ‘Think positive‘, that’s what we’re supposed to do!” I don’t have to strain my ears too hard before I hear the inevitable dismissive rumblings of, “Oh, it’s just Emma being negative again – she always looks on the gloomy side of everything.” Despite my best efforts in telling myself that such comments aren’t worth getting in a lather over as the people who utter them are merely demonstrating a clear misunderstanding of the situation, I then started thinking about it in a slightly different way. It occurred to me that perhaps in today’s society where the psychobabble of ‘thinking yourself whatever you want to be’ is becoming increasingly deafening, this is resulting in these people missing the point completely and, in doing so, misunderstanding the basic definitions of positive and negative. Therefore… [goes to fetch Oxford English dictionary from bookshelf].
…Right, here we are then. Okay, now there are actually quite a lot of definitions of ‘positive’, but I think the relevant one in this instance is the entry, ‘Constructive, optimistic, or confident’. There seem to be a fair few definitions of ‘negative’ too, but again I think the correct one for this situation is as follows: ‘(Of a person, attitude, or situation) not desirable or optimistic’.
So… with the above definitions in mind, let me speed back in time to the point at which I was about to undergo my fourth surgery in May 2014, to remove the silicone oil from my eye. I explained to a number of people that the prospect of that surgery was scary because there was a danger that my retina could detach again once the oil was taken out and if that happened, I would once again have to face a medical emergency. I lost count of the number of times people replied with comments such as, “Oh, but you mustn’t be negative!”, “Don’t think about the worst-case scenario!”, and even, incredibly stupidly, by one person whom shall remain nameless, “But that’s not going to happen to you, Emma.” Now, any ophthalmologist worth their salt will confirm that following removal of silicone oil from the eye, there is a danger that the retina will redetach. This is a proven scientific fact. So does this mean that my comment was negative? The consequences of that fact are most certainly negative – more surgery, more pain and discomfort, further loss of sight, sick leave from work, loss of independence whilst recovering, etc – but that doesn’t mean that stating the fact itself is negative. I remember telling people that of course I hoped the retina wouldn’t redetach and ever since my referral to Moorfields I’ve told people many times that I know I’m in the hands of some of the best ophthalmologists in the world and I’m in the best place possible to receive excellent care. Hmm. Hang on a minute… that sounds almost as if I’m being optimistic, doesn’t it?! But ‘optimistic’ is one of the words used by the Oxford English Dictionary to define ‘positive’, so that can’t be right, surely?!
Another recurring accusation of negativity comes when people, after having asked the latest news concerning my right eye, tell me with well-intentioned cheeriness, “Oh well, at least you have your left eye!” I sigh inwardly before explaining that yes, I’m hugely thankful for the sight in my left eye but that also I worry about it because it’s had two large tears in the retina, and I have lattice degeneration (thinning of the retina at the periphery, which can result in holes and tears), a cataract, and a whole bunch of floaters which stress me out quite a lot. Then follows the inevitable accusation that I’m being negative. Okay, so let’s break this down. Remember the definition of negative: ‘Not desirable or optimistic’? Well quite clearly it’s not desirable or optimistic to have any of these eye issues so that must mean I’m being negative, right? But I also frequently tell people how thankful I am for the sight in my left eye and that provided I retain that sight, I can manage pretty well. Hmm… and again that sounds suspiciously like I’m being ‘constructive, optimistic, and confident’, which is the definition of ‘positive’.
I could give endless additional examples, but let’s just move on to the crux of the matter. The situation of having to deal with recurrent retinal detachments is a negative one, and many of the facts concerning that situation are negative. However, this doesn’t mean that by relating those facts, I’m being negative. It simply means that I’m being realistic. In case you’re wondering, the Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘realistic’ as ‘representing things in a way that is accurate and true to life’. There is absolutely no point in misrepresenting facts. My name may be Emma, but that’s the only similarity between myself and Jane Austen’s famous character. The practice of delusion remains entirely with Miss Woodhouse.