I’ve Been Called “Negative” for Decades. Why?

For as long as I’ve been writing (articles and books) and giving public talks, I’ve aimed to bluntly challenge conventional wisdom. For doing the grunt work of digging up uncomfortable truths, I’ve often heard the refrain: Why are you so negative? On more than one occasion, I’ve replied to this blatant straw man. Below is an amalgam of those responses from over the years. Most of these notes were written before I came to recognize the dual charades of “woke-ness” and “activism” but the basic premises hold. 

If not for the cult of woke-ness and the scourge of virtue signaling, becoming an activist could be an incredibly positive experience: creating community, inspiring change, feeling empowered. While most humans choose instead to use their meager time chasing money, collecting possessions, and obsessing over pop culture, some folks see a bigger picture, a longer view, a deeper connection. However, being an effective activist also requires us to tear off the blinders and become acutely aware of how our way of life has devastated the planet.

(Mickey Z)

When you call me “negative,” what does that word mean in this context? If you went to a doctor, would you deem them negative for talking about how high your cholesterol levels are instead of, say, focusing on your excellent fingernail health? If you brought your car in for a tune-up, do you want the mechanic to compliment you for keeping your tire pressure at the right level but stay away from a negative topic like defective brakes?

Why then do so many humans shut down when confronted with the realities of our current social, economic, political, and environmental crises? Why is an analysis that presents a dose of reality smugly dismissed as negative? Don’t you want to know what’s going on and how you can help address it beyond minor lifestyle changes and the petty conflicts of party politics? Why not save your knee-jerk “negative” retort for those who directly or indirectly support the corporate-sponsored plundering of our planet? News Flash: It’s not the negativity that’s the issue here, friends. It’s denial.

Antonio Gramsci wrote, “I’m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.” I can think of no better mantra. Don’t shy away from learning the ugly realities of industrial civilization but never let these brutal truths prevent you from taking urgent action and believing you can create change and save human and non-human lives. It’s a delicate balance but our ability to walk this fine line could literally make all the difference in the world for those within our reach. Translation: We need a planet brimming with pessimistic optimists.

Again, I still stand by much of what I’ve written above… but I always keep my mind open to learning about other approaches. The other day, for example, I heard the author Neal Allen talking on a podcast about how most people do not want to hear the truth. He then offered a provocative example of how to work around this long-term trend. 

Allen pointed out that the first big “speech” given by Jesus was the Sermon on the Mount. It was, to use today’s vernacular, a wake-up call of truth-telling… but it did not have its intended effect. So, from that moment on, Jesus spoke almost exclusively in parables (as far as we know). Part of his goal was to conceal the truth; e.g., “I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

I have no intention to stop writing researched articles jam-packed with facts. But I will definitely sprinkle in more parables than I usually do and see how it goes. Hey, it worked pretty well for Jesus, right? 

Mickey Z. is the creator of a podcast called Post-Woke. You can subscribe here. He is also the founder of Helping Homeless Women - NYC, offering direct relief to women on New York City streets. Spread the word. Read other articles by Mickey.